Tuesday July 11, 2017

The 'bittersweet' story behind Maurice Sendak's long lost manuscript

Children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, seen here posing with a character from his beloved book Where The Wild Things Are, died in 2012.

Children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, seen here posing with a character from his beloved book Where The Wild Things Are, died in 2012. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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story transcript

When Arthur Yorinks got a call from his editor asking for permission to publish a book he co-wrote with the late Maurice Sendak two decades ago, he was thrilled.

"I reacted with a mixture of utter joy, a bit of surprise and feeling like I was in the Twilight Zone, because I remember that time so vividly and for it to suddenly come flooding back was really joyous," the children's author told As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

"It was just a really nice way to sort of return to this very important friendship I had for over 40 years."

Presto and Zesto in Limboland

Picture from Presto and Zesto in Limboland. (©2017 The Maurice Sendak Foundation)

The long lost book, called Presto and Zesto in Limboland, was discovered last year by Lynn Caponera, president of the Maurice Sendak Foundation.

According to Publishers Weekly, she'd been going through the Where The Wild Things Are author's files in Connecticut  "to see what could be discarded," when she came across a typewritten manuscript she'd never seen before. 

She passed it along to Michael di Capua, Sendak's longtime editor and publisher, who then called Yorinks.

"When Michael and Lynn contacted me, this was like a bolt out of the heavens," Yorinks said. "It means a lot that it's coming out into the world."

Michael di Capua Books and HarperCollins will publish the never-before-seen book in the fall 2018 — six years after Sendak's death

Yorinks and Sendak were longtime friends and frequent collaborators. Together, they wrote The Miami Giant (1995) and Mommy? (2006), and they co-founded the Night Kitchen Theater. 

The titular characters in Presto and Zesto in Limboland are based off Yorinks and Sendak — their names a nod to the secret nicknames the friends had for each other. 

"Indeed, the story's about two good friends who have to make their way in this very mixed-up world, and that's how Maurice and I felt at the time," Yorinks said.

He called the story "an homage to our own friendship."

Arthur Yorinks

Author Arthur Yorinks is thrilled that his last collaboration with longtime friend Maurice Sendak is finally going to see the light of day. (Airwayv Media Inc.)

The story behind the story starts in 1990, when Sendak created a series of illustrations that were shown during the London Symphony Orchestra performance of Leos Janacek's Rikadla, which Yorinks described as "suite of nonsense rhymes."

After the one-night show was over, Sendak tucked the illustrations away in a drawer, taking them out only once more for a different symphony performance. 

"They were so beautiful to me," Yorinks said. "And I said to Maurice, you know, 'Why don't we try making a book out of this?'"

One afternoon in the late '90s, the two authors took out the illustrations "on a lark" and spread them over Sendak's drawing table, Yorinks said.

"We just began to, in a sense, tell each other stories. We were just making it up as we went along, and we got a lot of laughs out of it, and it was a really hilarious afternoon," he said. "But what happened was that an actual narrative kind of began to coagulate out of this. " 

They made plans to have the book published, but life got in the way.

"It was around that time that Maurice was involved with other projects. I was very  involved with the theatre," Yorinks said. "So we put it aside ... all the time thinking, 'Well, we'll go back that.'"

Then, on May 8, 2012, Sendak died after suffering a stroke in Connecticut at the age of 83.

"It's so bittersweet. He would have absolutely loved this. I mean, he would be just incredibly delighted that this has come to light because it was a project of love and joy," Yorinks said.

"I'm so happy with the knowledge that he would have been a champion of publishing this, and at the same time, it's horribly sad that he's not here with me to share in this part of it."