Has that happened to you?
Oh yes. And those are the most gratifying letters. I have pierced their armor.
A little girl who wrote said: "Why are there babies in Outside Over There? What the hell is the matter with them? And why do they all wear head covers? And why do they all wear big, swimmy clothes?" She was furious! She said, "Don't you know how to dress a baby properly?"
Okay, that's not what put her off--but that's what she thinks put her off. Her mother included a little note, saying she was furious all the time--not the mother, the child. Because the mother was pregnant, and she explained to me very carefully how happy her daughter would be when a baby came in the house. And her little daughter was saying to her--but wasn't being heard--I don't want a little baby in the house. Throw her in the garbage.
It was wonderful, because she found something that spoke to her outrage. So I was so happy for her.
So that's a sign of success--that you challenged her emotionally about something.
Yes. I knew how to interpret her anger. I knew how to empathize with her anger. And you know, that's what a book should be once in a while. I love reading. I love reading--it's one of the best reasons for staying alive. Reading. I've experienced many emotional, traumatic things in my life--from reading.
On Bumble-Ardy's first page, Bumble's reading a newspaper that says "We read banned books!" Is that just a sly authorial intrusion, or a knowing nod to smart parents? Or does it somehow address or inform the content of this book in particular?
I have been banned in my lifetime. I was banned for In the Night Kitchen. Because the boy had a pecker. A boy without a pecker--that is something I would condemn. But that is such a mindless thing to get excoriated about. But you see, if it's a children's book--then you don't have a pecker. Well, bullshit. Boys are boys and girls are girls. What the hell are we fighting about?
So I have many arguments about what they deem appropriate or inappropriate for children. I guess without meaning to, I have been inappropriate. No, not on my terms--on their terms. But it's not important. It's not important.
But, as an artist, how do you decide what's appropriate and what's inappropriate for children?
I don't think about it. I just want to be taken up by an idea and get all excited. And put Mozarts's symphonies on a player and get more excited.
Music's been such an important part of your process .
Yes. I was taken by surprise on [the 10th anniversary of ] 9/11--I tried to spend the whole day away from it. I did not want to be pulled into it again. And that night on Channel 13, they planned Mahler's Symphony No. 2. I'm a great fan of Mahler, but I've never loved the Symphony No. 2--the "Resurrection" symphony. But I found myself blubbering and in tears at the end of the symphony. And that's only something music can do. I didn't hear any of the speeches, I didn't want to watch, I didn't want to hear. But I needed somebody to pull me out--and it was Mahler! And I welcomed the tears, and I welcomed my ability to respond so passionately to art--especially music. I love music beyond all other forms of art. It's a reason to go on living.