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Maurice Sendak's Book Collection At Heart Of Legal Dispute


Maurice Sendak wrote and illustrated beloved classics like "Where The Wild Things Are" and "In The Night Kitchen" which have delighted generations of children and adults. He also amassed a collection of rare and valuable books. Even toward the end of his life Sendak found joy in the beauty around him, as he told Terry Gross in 2011.


MAURICE SENDAK: Oh, God, there are so many beautiful things in the world which I will to leave when I die, but I'm ready. I'm ready. I'm ready.

SIEGEL: Well, now some of those beautiful things that he's left behind - his valuable rare book collection in particular - or are at the center of a legal dispute. The Rosenbach Museum and Library, longtime home of the author's work, filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Sendak's estate. The Philadelphia museum says the estate has failed to comply with certain provisions of Sendak's will.

Here to talk about the dispute is Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Peter Dobrin. Welcome to the program.

PETER DOBRIN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: What exactly is the Rosenbach Museum and Library claiming in this lawsuit?

DOBRIN: They've asked the judge in a small Connecticut town, not far from where Sendak's home was, to enforce several provisions in the will. One is to turn over the rare books that Sendak called for to go to the Rosenbach Museum upon his death, but also for them to produce an entire inventory of rare books. The other thing they're asking for is for the judge to compel the Sendak estate to come to an agreement with Rosenbach over a loaning agreement that Sendak called for in his will because Sendak stipulated in his will that he wanted items to be continued to be displayed at the Rosenbach.

SIEGEL: Well, what do the executors of the estate say and are they in fact acting contrary to what Sendak's will says?

DOBRIN: Well, they haven't commented very much. They would like to build, as per Sendak's wishes, a museum and study center in Sendak's home in Connecticut and presumably, they want to keep as many items for that study center as they possibly can.

SIEGEL: And that's something that is also, I gather, in Sendak's will.

DOBRIN: Yes. He left a lot of his assets to establishing this museum and study center for scholars and for visitors, people to appreciate his work so that his legacy could continue to live on.

SIEGEL: I've read your stories about this dispute and was interested to learn how this relationship between Sendak and the Rosenbach went back a long time, at a time when the works of an illustrator might not have been all that interesting to many a museum in the country.

DOBRIN: If you look through Sendak's will, the gift to the Rosenbach is clearly a debt of gratitude because the Rosenbach he began visiting in the '60s. They were very generous in feeding his hunger for 19th century literature, for illustrated books and his visits to the Rosenbach and his relationship with the Rosenbach had a lot to do with his own development as an artist, and it had a lot to do with his development as a rare book collector and so I think at the end of his life he took a look at this rare book collection and he realized that it was really a reflection of the Rosenbach in a way, and that the best place for it was to be in the place that helped to curate it and develop it.

SIEGEL: Peter Dobrin, thank you very much for talking with us.

DOBRIN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Peter Dobrin, reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, talking with us about the dispute he's been writing about between the estate of Maurice Sendak and the Rosenback Museum and Library in Philadelphia.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.