Thursday, July 19, 2012

Judy Blume

Meeting Judy Blume was surreal.  When I told her this at the reception before the event she stated, "Yes, it must be.  You all grew up, but I've basically stayed the same."  She struck me as a woman with class, confidence, grace and an enormous sense of humor.  I'm out of touch with children's books now, but I was so happy to see young book fans at this event, and I realized she is still popular and relevant to children's literature and to children themselves.

Jeff Nichols the Executive Director of the Mark Twain House introduced the event as well as the moderator Julia Pistel (Marketing and Event Planning at the Mark Twain House, Literary Disco) and Julia in turn introduced Judy Blume.  When Judy came out she kissed the picture of Mark Twain and stated she was in good company. (Since they have both have had their writing banned.)

The evening was structured like an informal interview and reminded me of Behind the Actor's Studio in content and tone.  It was very relaxed.  Julia opened with her first experience with a Judy Blume book.  When she read Are You There God? It's Me Margaret and asked her mom what a sanitary belt was.  Her mother explained it to her, but she also noted that it opened up a dialogue between her and her mom.  The modern version of this book has updated feminine products and Judy went into a discussion of how many of her books have been updated.  However, she also noted that some books haven't been updated and some people are "purists."

Judy told us that she grew up in Elizabeth, NJ and made up stories in her head all the time while she bounced a ball against her brick house.  She was too afraid to tell anyone about these stories, because she thought people would think she was weird.  Her two most important years were when she moved to Miami.  She came out of her shell and when her family returned to the Northeast to live, she was a changed kid.

"Who was your Judy Blume?" Julia asked.  Judy explained, "No one. It was the 50s.  We didn't know anything.  Families pretended to be perfect."  Judy's brother let his parents know he wasn't perfect but Judy pretended to be happy all the time because "that's what you did."  She also observed that is a huge burden on a child. 

Julia noted that Judy understands the anxiety of being a kid and treats different fears with respect.  Judy confessed that she herself was a fearful and anxious child.  The discussion turned to Blubber (one of my favorites) and the topic of bullying.  Judy feels bullying was always there, but it wasn't called bullying.  "Then, nobody was talking about it."  She observed. 

When Judy made her foray into adult books she didn't feel she was making a "transition."  She simply had a story she wanted to tell and she wanted a change and a challenge.  Because of that she doesn't think she could ever write a series.  Regarding the book Forever her daughter asked her if she could write a book about two nice kids who have sex and nobody has to die.  Judy observed that in the media girls were (are) punished for having sex. 

As to her writing process, unless she works in the morning she won't get anything done that day.  She treats it like a job.  "A lot of writing takes place when your not writing." She advised.  She gets ideas when she goes for a walk or rides her bike.  Ideas don't come because you want them.  "It's the ball bouncing against the brick house again."

When the topic turned to censorship, Judy said she was thrilled to be banned on the same list as Mark Twain.  Her censorship story started with a principal in her child's elementary school when he chased her down the hall with a chair.  She had given the school librarian three copies of  Are You There God? It's Me Margaret which he wouldn't allow on the shelves. Judy also stated that censorship almost always starts with a school library.  She feels that because books can raise questions, it's not until kids start asking and making books their own that people feel it might be dangerous.  Judy advises you should not write with a censor on your shoulder any more than you should write with a critic on your shoulder.  "That fear will keep you from writing the best, most honest book you can."  Regarding difficult subjects Judy states that either kids will go to their parents or they will read right over it. 

Tiger Eyes, which has recently been made into a film is about grief and trauma.  At the time she wrote it she didn't connect it with her own feelings of losing her father, she was writing from "...some other place."  Judy realized later she was channeling her own emotions.  She co-wrote the screenplay with her son and it's now being shown at film festivals.  When she invited Julia to come to Nantucket the following weekend to view it at the Nantucket Film Festival, Julia paused and asked "Is that real?"

After the discussion there was a Q&A.  It delighted me to see so many children stepping up to the microphone.  Little book lovers, future authors or book bloggers!

Ms. Blume is a fascinating person to listen to.  Every book she has written and phase of her life is a chapter within itself and has amazing, interesting, relevant stories behind them.  She was one of my favorite authors growing up and from the conversations going on around me, I was not alone.  There were people of all ages in attendance with smiles on their faces sharing stories of how Judy Blume and her books shaped them, helped them and entertained them.  Judy Blume has blessed the world with her imagination.

She is more than just an author. 

She is an icon.


Felicia the Geeky Blogger said...

I am soooooooooooooooooo JELLY! I bet this event was beyond amazing :)

She got me through my roughest moments as a little girl :)

Kimberly @ Midnight Book Girl said...

OMG!!! Judy Blume! I am so jealous!

I'm so glad that she embraces being banned (though I don't think any of her books should be banned). I'm always bummed when there is an updated version, but I get why the publishers want to do it.

Excellent wrap up of the event!!

fakesteph said...

I was about to write several OMGs and an I'm Jealous or two... but it looks like I got beat. But seriously, I LOVED this post. I love Judy Blume. She is just one of those people who cares. And I've never met her, but you know she does. She is so thoughtful in her books and in her essays and interviews and even on twitter. I can't believe she grew up in the 50s. The woman is timeless.

sharon said...

This was truly a great piece. Yes I am jealous. I was first introduced to Superfudge at school and I read every book since then. One that still breaks my heart is "Letters to Judy", I made me cry then and it makes me cry now. You are right, she is an icon and a great one at that.

Kate @Midnight Book Girl said...

Wow, I don't think I would have been able to have done anything but stutter and slobber over Ms. Blume! Her books were such a part of my childhood that it is a bit hard to think of her as a real person. I have been so fortunate to have grown up in a time when books, especially those written by women, have been able to portray the truth of reality and the possibilities out there for all of us. Awesome post, Pam!

Jenny said...

Oh my gosh you got to meet Judy Blume?! LUCKY YOU PAM!!! This looks like such an amazing event, thank you so much for sharing! Love what she said about censorship, and if I were her, I definitely would have been excited to share space on the same banned list as Mark Twain. Seems like an indicator that you're doing something right!

Midnyte Reader said...

@Felicia-A lot of people at the event stated that same thing. How she got them through their childhood and adolescence.

@Kim-The reasons why Twain was banned are so silly for a present audience, but I guess back then it was a big deal. I think that even now, the reasons why Judy Blume was banned are a bit outdated too.

@Steph-Yes, she really shows she cares in her writing and after seeing her in person, I am even more convinced.

@Sharon-She did talk about Letters. It was quite heartbreaking. She said when she first started getting letters she went to a professional to figure out what her role should be. They figured out it was as a friend.

@Kate-Loved your comment about books by women and how they portay us.

@Jenny-I agree with you, as she and Mark Twain have really touched a lot of people.

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