For his senior project, my talented college friend Dave Saltzman wrote and illustrated a children’s book. He did this during a time when he was being treated for cancer. Dave was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma during the fall of our senior year; he died a year and a half later, 11 days short of his 23rd birthday. Somehow, through it all, he managed to remain not just upbeat, but JOYFUL. He poured his energy, boundless even when his body was fighting cancer, into this book. The story didn’t really grab me – it seemed too facile – but the intricately detailed, jewel-toned illustrations certainly did. Later, I realized that Dave was hoping that other kids with cancer would read this story and feel hope. But at the time, it just never occurred to me that Dave would actually die.
I remember walking through the gallery at Dave’s senior art show, where the pages of his book were framed and displayed. The colorful illustrations seemed to refract off the white walls of the gallery, sparkling like an indoor rainbow. They were the sunlight of a bright young life, reflected through the jewel-toned pages of a children’s book.
Dave’s book The Jester Has Lost His Jingle was later published with an afterword by Maurice Sendak. The two met only briefly, when Sendak came to Yale to give a presentation. Dave hung around afterwards to get his autograph. He told me about it later, but another friend, Jackie, was there. She described the meeting like this: “The two spoke and laughed and I was just thrilled to be in the presence of two such delightful and talented souls. I’ve long been a huge fan of Sendak’s work, but in my mind Dave always understood Sendak best.”
As important as Where The Wild Things Are was to my childhood – so important that it was one of the few books I brought to with me to college – Maurice Sendak was most important to me because of these words:
Our lives briefly touched. But I remember him among all the eager,talented young people I’ve bumped into along the way. I remember the face – the enthusiasm- the intelligence and unaffected extraordinariness of David Salzman. It is difficult to remember all the bright, promising youngsters. It is easy to remember David.
That he died before his 23rd birthday is a tragedy beyond words. That he managed during his harrowing ordeal to produce a picture book so brimming with promise and strength, so full of high spirits, sheer courage and humor is nothing short of a miracle. Even the rough patches that David the artist would surely have set right had he been given the time become all the more precious for the wild light they shed on his urgent, exploding talent.
David was a natural craftsman and storyteller. His passionate picture book is issued out of a passionate heart.
David’s Jester soars with life.
– Maurice Sendak
Author-Artist, Where The Wild Things Are
When the news of Sendak’s death was announced this week, Deb (another college friend) had this to say, “I’ve been wondering what wonderful, amazing and wacko things we would have read in Dave’s obituary, had he reached the ripe old age that Sendak did.”
I’d like to think that these two talents are now together, not as the old and the young or the fame secured and the potential lost. I picture them both as equals, working together in the sunlight and collaborating on wonderful, amazing, wacko new projects.
Maurice Sendak (1928-2012)
David Saltzman (1967-1990)