Author/illustrator Peter Sis in Prague - a preview for Czechs Today

09-09-2004

This week one of the world's most celebrated children's authors and illustrators is in his native Prague to launch a new book, The Tree of Life, about the life and trials of famous naturalist Charles Darwin. The illustrator is none other than Peter Sis, who has lived in the U.S. since the early 80s. We'll be profiling Mr Sis' work in next week's edition of Czechs Today, but we wanted to offer listeners something of a preview.

Peter Sis, photo: CTKPeter Sis, photo: CTK Here is the children's author discussing his decision to emigrate from Czechoslovakia and some of his adventures that followed.

"Thinking about it now I think I was fooling myself, because maybe it was such a difficult decision that between 1982 and 1987 I think I was playing the game that I would go back and I was sending all kinds of letters to different Czech institutions, telling them that this was really good for me and for Czechoslovakia, if I became a really good animator and illustrator. And they would always tell me, write me, this is against the law, you will be punished, this can't go on. And I was playing this game so I wouldn't have to face the fact and say: now I'm staying here."

You got in touch with the illustrator Maurice Sendak and I was wondering what he told you at that time and what developed as a result...

"Well, I was in Los Angeles, and somebody I knew sent my books to Maurice Sendak. He called me and warned me that to do children's books is not always easy but that he liked my work and would help me. But, he said 'what the hell are you doing in a place like Los Angeles?! That's the worst place for anybody creative!' - he's got this whole thing with Tinsel Town. But, I didn't know any better, L.A. was the only place I had been."

"So, the only place you can seriously consider doing children's books is the East Coast, so I knew I would eventually have to get to New York or Boston."

"I was able to buy an old car, a beat-up Mustang, and I was so excited to get going I didn't even buy a map. I thought it would be easy getting from L.A. and I remember I had made it as far as San Antonio, Texas, I thought 'I should turn left!' There was this state trooper who was standing there and asked him 'Which way to New York? He thought I had crossed the border from Mexico and searched my car."

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