PHILADELPHIA — Talk show host Stephen Colbert’s foray into children’s books has landed him alongside some exalted literary company.
A playful new exhibit at the Rosenbach Museum & Library pairs priceless material by James Joyce and Maurice Sendak with, um, perhaps less valuable items used by Colbert to write “I Am A Pole (And So Can You!).”
Colbert’s pens, beer bottles and lunch remnants are certainly not the usual fare for the Rosenbach, the Philadelphia institution that houses the only complete manuscript of Joyce’s “Ulysses.”
Museum officials say the display reinforces their mission to engage and inspire visitors.
“If I can do that by having Stephen Colbert make a joke about ‘Ulysses,’ why not?” said Rosenbach director Derick Dreher.
The story began in January after Colbert, a Charleston native and host of the satirical “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, aired an interview with Sendak, best known as the author and illustrator of the children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Colbert brought along a draft of his own story about a metal pole searching for its identity. Should it be a totem pole? Ski pole? Pole vault? The epic journey ends with — spoiler alert! — the main character becoming a flag pole. “The sad thing is, I like it,” Sendak said with a laugh after hearing an excerpt.
That blurb is now featured on the book’s cover. Sendak, however, died in May — coincidentally, on the same day “I Am A Pole” was published.
Sometime after the interview, Dreher said, a producer for Colbert visited the Rosenbach, which is also the repository for more than 10,000 pieces of Sendak’s work. A serendipitous encounter with a curator led to the idea for “Maurice Sendak and Stephen Colbert: Interviews, Objects ... and Poles!”
The exhibit, on view through Nov. 11, includes Colbert book drafts, sketches by illustrator Paul Hildebrand, two Bud Light Lime bottles, a crumpled paper bag, a turkey sandwich receipt and a rhyming dictionary.
It also contains drawings of poles made by Colbert and Sendak during their interview, as well as illustrated poles from Rosenbach copies of “Moby Dick” and “Don Quixote.” And, of course, part of the “Ulysses” manuscript is featured.
While noting that Joyce probably would not be happy to see his acclaimed novel in the company of “I Am A Pole,” Dreher made some tongue-in-cheek observations of similarities between the two books: Both are odysseys of self-discovery, and each makes references to shaving.
Colbert could not be reached for comment for this story. But he highlighted his new connection to “Ulysses” in a July segment called “Who’s Honoring Me Now.”
“So congratulations, America, because now my manuscript ... is officially enshrined in its rightful place, side-by-side with the former greatest book of all time,” Colbert quipped.
The next day, Dreher said, Colbert devotees descended on the Rosenbach.
“It’s been great fun for us,” Dreher said. “Colbert has such rabid fans, and I mean that as a compliment.”