Picture book authors and illustrators who are experiencing financial hardship due to a loss of income directly related to the Covid-19 crisis have a new avenue for seeking assistance. The Maurice Sendak Emergency Relief Fund, a joint project of the Maurice Sendak Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), will distribute unrestricted grants of up to $2,500 apiece until the fund is depleted. The Maurice Sendak Foundation, the not-for-profit charitable organization supporting the artistic legacy of the late author-illustrator for which it’s named, has granted $100,000 to NYFA as seed money to kick off the program. The initial goal for the fund is $250,000 and hopes are to exceed that amount through additional donations. NYFA will administer the relief fund, which entails overseeing the application and selection process and the distribution of grants to individuals.
The application period begins April 23 at 1 p.m. EDT and will close once 600 applications have been received. The program is open to children’s picture book artists and writers over the age of 21 who live in the U.S. and its territories, and applicants must demonstrate that they have published at least one picture book in the last five years (2015–2020), or that they currently have a book under contract. The complete list of eligibility requirements can be found here.
Award-winning children’s author and illustrator Arthur Yorinks, a frequent Sendak collaborator, and an advisor to the Maurice Sendak Foundation, said that the idea for the emergency relief fund was sparked by observing the publishing industry’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. “We understood that publishers—rightly so and generously so—were allowing some rights to be waived in this time of crisis in allowing read-alouds of books and other things. We totally support that, but we realized that the artists behind those rights need some help too.”
Lynn Caponera, president and treasurer of the Maurice Sendak Foundation, elaborated on that point. “We know that many children’s authors and illustrators don’t support themselves solely with their book careers,” she said. “They’re doing all sorts of things to supplement their income from publishing, and now they don’t have that. We felt it would be proper to set up something that would offset some of the wages they’re losing right now.” She hopes that the children’s book industry—from publishers to individuals—will want to “join in, donate, and support the fund.”
At NYFA, executive director Michael L. Royce said the organization is proud to administer the new fund, adding that “it honors Sendak’s legacy by helping writers and artists to regain their financial footing in this incredibly challenging time and, in turn, continue his tradition of educating and delighting children.”
Yorinks and Caponera are especially pleased that this new effort earmarks support for picture book creators. Though other sources of emergency financial assistance are being made available for various kinds of artists to pursue, Yorinks said, “People generally don’t think of picture book artists anyway, so the idea that this is targeted just for them is something that, dare I say, Maurice would have liked a lot.”
Sendak’s longtime editor, Michael di Capua, who is also a member of the foundation’s board, recalled Sendak’s long history of mentoring younger artists and writers, which began when he was an instructor at Parsons School of Design and Yale University, and extended through the Sendak Fellowship program established in 2010. “It was all about nourishing those who were coming after him,” di Capua said. “What the foundation is doing now is perfectly consistent with what he had done for most of his life, and that pleases me so much. It’s an extension of something that was very close to his heart.”
Looking beyond the fund’s initial relief efforts, Caponera said, “I think the need is always going to be there for picture book makers and my hope is that the fund can continue.” Yorinks shares that vision. “One of the prime missions of the Maurice Sendak Foundation is to support children’s book writers and illustrators,” he said. “The idea that we might be able to keep this up after this nightmare is over would be a terrific thing.”
Those who knew Sendak best say that he was deeply affected by what was going on the world. “He took it to heart,” Caponera said. According to Yorinks, “He would be the first one to champion what we’re doing. This is right in the bullseye of the response he would have in terms of trying to help.” Caponera agreed, noting, “It’s an honor and opportunity to hopefully live up to his standards.”