Judy Blume is one of the most beloved authors of all time. In the week that sees her new adult novel published, a slightly overwhelmed Suzanne Baum spoke to her about the book and how she feels being called “a voice of a generation.”
Bullying, menstruation, boys and hormonal rages; in fact everything to do with being a teenager I learnt from the Jewish American author Judy Blume. Like millions of girls I devoured all of her books; many of which I’m sure I read secretly by torchlight under my bed covers!
Now a 42-year-old mum of three, I can understand looking at my own teenagers just how complicated the adolescence years can be. So in the 1980’s-when sex was more taboo than it is today- learning the facts of life from Blume, makes me somewhat in awe of her. I almost want to thank her for teaching me about periods, bras and boys but not sure it is an appropriate way to start an interview. Instead I ask her if she still receives a lot of fan mail!
“I get zillions of letters from kids who have read my books and resonated with the characters and storylines,” explains 77 -year -old Blume. “I have so many loyal readers and am thrilled even today kids are still continuing to read the work I wrote decades ago.”
Blume is so softly-spoken, I can understand why she is looked upon as some sort of agony aunt. I ask her if she is surprised that she continues to receive thousands of letters and emails a month mostly from children and teenagers who read her books.
“I wrote these books so long ago that of course I am flattered they are still popular,” Blume enthuses.
“Reading is an important part of life so whatever your child chooses to read is a bonus. Don’t be judgemental; just be happy they are reading.”
Discovering Blume’s book: Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, left such an impression on me, I am not surprised to hear that over the years readers have feel such a tremendous bond with the author that many have written letters confiding their secrets to Blume. So what has made her such an inspiring author?
“I have just been impossibly lucky,” responds Blume, who lives on the island of Key West in Florida. “It must be a combination of luck in my timings, determination and hard work that got me there.”
I can also imagine it has a huge amount to do with the warm personality she is well renowned for. On hearing her request “for a glass of water from one of my elves please” during our interview, Blume’s ability to remain unpretentious is admirable- especially when she is adamant that she “wouldn’t be here today without my incredibly loyal readers”.
It is no surprise that much excitement has surrounded this week’s launch of her new book In the Unlikely Event-that is published tomorrow (Tuesday). Her 29th book, it has been 16 years since Blume wrote a book for adults so she is understandably a bit anxious about how it will be received.
“I never really intended to write another book after Summer Sisters,” Blume insists, referring to the last adult novel that “nearly did me in.
“However, one day in 2009, I was attending a literary event where my friend Rachel Kushner was talking about her own book, Telex from Cuba. “She mentioned that the novel had been inspired by her mother’s stories from the fifties and suddenly a story came to me.”
Set mainly in 1952, when Blume was 14, In the Unlikely Event chronicles a period that she lived through as a girl growing up in Elizabeth. The book centres on a series of real-life plane crashes that occurred in late 1951 and early 1952 which Blume recalls being terrified by.
“It finally felt right to touch upon these true events from my past,” explained Blume. “It took me nearly five years to write and I hated a lot of it but now it’s finished I love it.”
Having secured a legion of old and no doubt new fans, I ask Blume if she has plans to write anymore books in the future.
“You’ve got to be joking,” she says. “Now all I want to do is spend time with my husband George who is my biggest fan; we have been together for 35 years.” Now that’s what I call a true-love story!
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (Knopf), is published on 2 June