Advice to a Young Illustrator


Arts & Culture

In 1961, a thirty-three-year-old Maurice Sendak wrote his editor, Harper & Row’s Ursula Nordstrom, about his self-doubts as a writer. Letters of Note presents her response. It is full of great advice, but we especially love this:

The great Russians and Melville and Balzac etc. wrote in another time, in leisure, to be read in leisure. I know what you mean about those long detailed rich novels—my god the authors knew all about war, and agriculture, and politics. But that is one type of writing, for a more leisurely time than ours. You have your own note to sound, and you are sounding it with greater power and beauty all the time. Yes, Moby Dick is great, but honestly don’t you see great gobs of it that could come out? Does that offend you, coming from a presumptuous editor? I remember lines of the most piercing beauty (after he made a friend there was something beautiful about “no more would my splintered hand and shattered heart be turned against the wolfish world.”) But there are many passages which could have been cut.

Presciently, she added:

33 is still young for an artist with your potentialities. I mean, you may not do your deepest, fullest, richest work until you are in your forties. You are growing and getting better all the time.

No kidding: Sendak would write Where the Wild Things Are two years later, and the rest is children’s book history!