Judy Blume drew an audience of nearly 1000, at the Toronto Reference Library, on Monday. Most of the audience were women who had loved Judy’s through the years, growing up with her books which sold over 85 million copies in 32 languages. Judy was in Toronto to promote In the Unlikely Event. The crowd gave a standing ovation to the petite, 77 year old author who has been writing for 46 years, telling stories that gave young girls the answers to their coming age questions in stories like Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Deenie and Forever.
Judy had grown up in Elizabeth, New Jersey and, at the age of 14, lived through a 58 day time period when 3 airplanes had crashed in her city. No adults ever talked about the traumatic event and the young people were left to deal with and come up with their own causes for the crash. Judy had put the crashes out of her mind, never sharing with her husband and never telling her daughter (a pilot) about her experience. Suddenly, at a writer’s conference, another author talked about writing a story set in the 1950s and Judy had an epiphany that she could write the story of the crashes in Elizabeth. She was so excited that she couldn’t wait to tell this tale and started her research that Monday and after 4 months of research started writing this fictional tale based on historical events. It was interesting that someone had mentioned to Judy that this novel could be considered historical fiction and she adamantly responded that it was CONTEMPORARY fiction! To Judy it might have been contemporary but to her audience of young women, WE might consider it historical fiction.
Her excitement about this tale was obvious – especially when she shared that she “wants to read them everything, I want to read the whole book” to the audience. She did warn the audience that there were a lot of characters, but not to worry, that they did come together at the end. This had been my thought reading this book also – it is better to keep reading straight through as sporadic reading would make it a challenge to keep the characters straight. True to Judy’s word, the characters come together. While the story is fiction based on true events, it was interesting to learn that she did not identify herself as Miri and that Mr. O was based on her own father who had been a dentist involved in identifying victims of the 3 crashes.
It was surprising that Judy was not able to use the actual news clips of the time. The newspapers were defunct and the writers were deceased making it impossible to gain permission to use the flowery clips . The publisher “was in a hurry to publish quickly while I could still walk and talk” and encouraged Judy to write her own news clips, based on the descriptive originals. She simply did not have time. What was her solution? Her husband George, became her “Henry Amerman” and came to the rescue, writing the news clips! George, who was sitting in the front row, gained a round of applause from the audience and Judy chuckled about “being the boss of him”. Together, they made the deadline!
Judy shared that she never wrote journals but would make up stories to herself when she was young. In relation to writing her novels, she felt that the 70s were a wonderful time for authors. She had the freedom to tell the stories and has never considered herself a young adult author. She hates labels and young adult was not even a genre when she was writing the majority of her work. She liked writing stories for tweens and teens and was interested in “kids on the brink”.
She indicated that the job of kids is to be happy! Her own parents wanted her to be a “good girl” and she did try to please. They gave her the gift of reading whatever she wanted and she started choosing from her parents book case at the age of 12. The only book that she was not allowed to read was A Rage to Live (John O’hara). She was denied access to it at the library without parental permission but her aunt, came to the rescue, brought her a copy and Judy laughed as she recalled staying up all night to read it.
Judy instilled a love of reading into her own children and she also shared the correct information about sexuality with them, chuckling that the “Blume kids always had books and the neighbours did not always like that.” Her own mother had not taught her anything about sexuality, in a time before the pill and she admitted that she had her children too early. When Forever was released, she told the audience that there were angry parents who sent letters complaining that she was giving young girls permission to have sex. She whispered the word masturbation and the fact that “every girl should have sex but that it does not have to be with a partner!” Judy also remembered a letter from an angry parent relating to Then Again Maybe I Won’t when a father wrote “how dare you tell my son before he was ready or before I had a chance to talk to him.” The spunky author wrote back “what were you waiting for?” noting that parents need to make sexuality a lifetime discussion so that kids will trust parents and come to them with questions.
Having grown up reading books like Judy, I was able to ask her about whether she still likes to read. She stated that she can’t read when she is writing as she gets wrapped up in other characters and that she enjoys listening to audio books during book signing sessions. She did not directly answer my question about what book she was reading now as she has been so busy with her new book and travel, which must be exhausting!
Although Judy had been planning to do a reading, time quickly passed as the audience listened raptly. After a few questions from the audience an enormous line was formed for book signing. The music playing was selected, specifically by Judy and her husband, George circulated through the line, chatting and signing books due to his own involvement in the writing of the news clips.
Judy Blume is an icon and women my age had grown up with her books, reading and learning information at the right time during development. We are now enjoying reading the stories of Fudge to our own children. Judy was like the friend next door. She knew the answers that girls were looking for without questions being asked and she tackled topics that were important, contemporary and relevant. I grew up with Judy Blume and still have a few old, dog-eared copies in my bookshelf. The trip to Toronto, with friends, was an adventure and it was well-worth the wait to meet Judy Blume!