By now most people know the story of Stephen Colbert showing his picture book I Am a Pole (And So Can You!) to Maurice Sendak during their January interviews on the Colbert Report. The book has had no shortage of TV coverage since its release earlier this month, with Colbert plugging it on his own program as well as during other talk show appearances. And it has just debuted in the number-one spot on the New York Times Advice and Miscellaneous bestseller list. But what was the genesis for the book?
Inspiration took hold when Colbert was doing publicity for I Am America (And So Can You!) in 2007. “I was being photographed for Vanity Fair,” he recalls to PW. “They had me in a suit and there was a wind machine and a flag and a big flagpole. They told me to hold the pole up nice and straight, and I said ‘I am a pole, and so can you!’ I thought, ‘I should write that.’ And it’s been in the back of my mind for five years.”
However, it wasn’t until Colbert landed a prime sit-down with children’s book legend Maurice Sendak at the beginning of this year for the Colbert Report, that I Am a Pole was committed to the page. “I was preparing for the Sendak interview, and my character’s motivation for the title was his wanting to get into writing celebrity books, which we knew was something loathed by Mr. Sendak,” says Colbert. “So we worked on a rough draft internally, and we brought it to him, held together with brads.” Colbert read the tale to Sendak in the interview. “I knew when he laughed throughout and said he liked it, it could be a real thing. Hachette wanted to do it, and Bob’s your uncle.” (Sendak’s exact assessment – “The sad thing is, I like it” – became a prominent jacket blurb.)
Regrettably, Sendak didn’t live to see all the silly hoopla, as he died on May 8, I Am a Pole’s official pub date. “We were so sad to hear he had passed,” Colbert says. “We had spoken to him about doing more with us. I was going to do Movie Reviews with Sendak, where we would watch movies on TV at his home and talk through them. He was up for it, but sadly we won’t have the opportunity. It was lovely to meet him and spend time with him.”