Arthur Yorinks joins the Blank Page Speaker Series to discuss the world of picture books

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On Thursday, the University of Connecticut welcomed Arthur Yorinks as part of its “Blank Page Speaker Series: Conversation on Creativity.” Yorinks is an acclaimed writer and has directed for opera, theater, dance, film and radio.  

As the son of two individuals who already were in the midst of raising two teenagers, Yorinks described his childhood as unconventional: he was able to partake in the activities he wanted to without anyone telling him any differently. Thanks to his parents’ busy schedules, Yorinks decided at about the age of six or seven he wanted to play piano. 

“I started piano lessons just because I kind of thought it was intriguing and fatefully ended up with a teacher who was a professor at Juilliard who hated kids,” he said. “I didn’t play ‘Mary had a Little Lamb,’ I went straight to Mozart.” 

His love for music continuously grew until almost all of his decisions were being influenced by music in one way or another. For a period of time, Yorinks believed being a classical pianist was going to be his career … until he discovered his love for words.  

During a night home alone, Yorinks stumbled upon an Edgar Allen Poe book that frightened him quite a bit. It was during this episode of fear a lightbulb went off in his brain.  

“Then it dawned on me: Wait a second, somebody wrote these words down, now I’m reading them and I’m feeling something,” he said.  

Ever since that moment, Yorinks decided he wanted to play music, but he also desperately wanted to become a short-story writer. Not once did becoming a picture book author cross his mind.  

However, he eventually met Maurice Sendak, a famous American illustrator, and became friends with him over time. Sendak told him to pursue picture books after seeing his work, which led to Yorinks selling a manuscript at the young age of 17.  

Yorinks would spend numerous years after that admiring various different writers, some of whom he admitted to being slightly obsessed with. He would read every single book about an individual, such as Kafka, and every single thing they had written, whether they be novels, letters or journal entries..  

Through this process, Yorinks was inspired to write many of his books , such as “Louis the Fish” and “It Happened in a Pinsk.” 

Yorinks described reading in a unique and inspiring manner. He says just as artists go to galleries and sit there and sketch, writers read fantastic pieces of literature and then write.  

There would be times when he would even give himself two years to read everything about an individual, and then resume writing.  

Despite never seeing himself as the author of children’s books, Yorinks has had great success. He has authored over 40 books, one of which titled “Hey Al” won the Caldecott Medal in 1987. Now, Yorinks resides in an upstate New York studio he built 25 years ago, and he spends his literature time reading Dickens.  

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