I was at the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut. They are featuring a Maurice Sendak exhibit and events. http://nbmaa.org/ It brought back memories.
In the late 1970s, I was an undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. I was in Francelia Butler‘s Children’s Literature course. When she announced that in the next class, her guest would be Maurice Sendak, I decided to do something daring. You see, I had written and illustrated a children’s book and sent it off to several publishers, getting a form rejection letter from the lot. I had to be doing something wrong.
At the next class, Maurice Sendak gave an intriguing talk on how he had meant his work for adults and was surprised when a publisher saw his work as children’s literature. Each story has a deep meaning and symbolism that speaks to adults. They also have children as the heroes of their adventures. When the class ended, he offered to sign for those that had brought any of his books with them.
This course was very popular and was held in one of the auditorium classrooms, so a very long line formed. I wanted to talk to him, so I made sure I was last. When I finally came to the front of the room, he signed my copy of Where the Wild Things Are. I told him how much I admired his work and that I had written a children’s book. He asked me if I had sent it out, and I told him some of the publishers I had sent it to and how all of them had rejected it. I was baffled what to do next, as I did not know what was wrong with it.
He said he never never looked at other people’s books. I said I understood and then I recited his book Pierre to him. I knew the entire book by heart. It’s about a boy who to everyone and every circumstance, he would say, “I don’t care.” Then something happened and he discovered something about himself. I shows extreme events can change people.
Maurice laughed. That’s when he offered to do me a very special favor. He said I was not to tell anyone. (I figure since he died in 2012, I could share this memoir now.) He said he never, never, never looked at other people’s books, but he would make an exception for me. If I had a copy of the book with me, he would take with him when he went to lunch with Francelia, and they could meet with me afterwards in Francelia’s office. I took my manuscript out of my backpack and handed it to him, then I thanked him.
To tell you I was a nervous wreck was an understatement, when I stood outside Francelia’s office waiting for them to arrive. I figured my worst fears would be confirmed. When they walked up to the office, they were smiling.
When I sat down with them, Maurice told me that he thought the book was delightful. The problem was in all the many colors I had used to illustrate it in. Printers were using three colors. I had too many colors and it would be too expensive to print. That’s why all those publishers had rejected it. I was so relieved. He enjoyed my story. That the time that was all that mattered to me. I thanked Maurice and have never, never, never told anyone about his special favor … until I went to the exhibit at the New Britain Museum of American Art with my oldest daughter.
She said, “Mom, printing technology is different now. It may be time to take that story out of storage and sent it out to publishers.”
I guess I will have to do that. My manuscript is stored near a book that’s wrapped carefully in plastic and signed by Maurice Sendak.
Susan Hanniford Crowley
Susan Hanniford Crowley is a paranormal adventure romance author who specializes in vampires and rare supernaturals.