Moskowitz, Golan Y. “Wild Visionary: Maurice Sendak in Queer Jewish Context”, Stanford University Press, 2020.
The Intersection of Queer and Jewish Studies
Golan Y. Moskowitz’s “Wild Visionary: Maurice Sendak in Queer Jewish Context” examines the life and work of Maurice Sendak in terms “of queer and Jewish studies and their intersections” and it is fascinating. I was well aware of Sendak’s sexuality but I was not prepared to enjoy this study of him as much as I did. He was a Jewish gay man who found his way into popular culture through his children’s books that he based upon his own childhood.
Sendak was born Maurice (Moishe) Bernard Sendak in 1928 and from his early days in Brooklyn, he sought the truth of the world. He became a working artist while dealing with his own emotional issues and what he felt society expected of him and remained totally aware of societal pressure which he projected into his art.
Writer Moskowitz examines Sendak’s personal alienation in American life but where he was in terms of the aspirations of his family. It was a time when immigrant families like the Sendaks worked for success in this country while still hanging on to the traditions with which they had been raised. It is here that Sendak faced gender and sexuality issues. To be Jewish and an American, it was often necessary to re-examine how one saw and performed the roles of masculinity and femininity as well as other mores that were expected in America. The dominant culture was the ruling factor. America was based on traditional binary concepts more than traditional Eastern European Jewish communities and American immigrant children stood somewhere between the two. Even though they only knew the world of Eastern Europe through stories, they were somewhat bound to the way of life there. Through his art, Sendak was able to express this double-bind and was able to navigate modern American life. It reflects his own experiences as a Jewish gay man. He represented his childhood with realism and imagination, exposing his “Inner child” and he relied both on his Jewish and queer sensibilities to do so.
This is so much more than a biography of Sendak; it is also a cultural history of being a gay Jewish artist in this country. Sendak was affected by the Holocaust, the AIDS epidemic as well as the Great Depression. Moskowitx explores this through examining the time in which Sendak lived, his illustrations and correspondence. We read of the influences that allowed him to add the queer element to the books he wrote for children and what pushed him to do so and we see him as a provocative radical at a time when there were not many others in the field of children’s literature.
Moskowitz has done amazing research to show us the influences on Sendak’s work and life. We are taken into the imagination of the man and see the tremendous influences that he shared with the world. Not only did I learn a great deal but I also had an extremely pleasurable read.