Before Judy Blume, there may have been a handful of books that spoke to issues teens could identify with; but very few were getting down to nitty-gritty stuff like menstruation, masturbation, parents divorcing, being half-Jewish, or deciding to have sex. Now, these were some issues that adolescents could dig into, and Blume’s ability to address them realistically and responsibly has made her one of the most popular – and most banned – authors for young adults.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, published in 1970, was Blume’s third book and the one that established her fan base. Drawing on some of the same things she faced as a sixth grader growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Blume created a sympathetic, first-person portrait of a girl whose family moves to the suburbs as she struggles with puberty and religion. In subsequent classics such as Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, Deenie, Blubber, and Tiger Eyes, Blume wrote about the pain of being different, falling in love, and figuring out one's identity. Usually written in a confessional/diary style, Blume’s books feel like letters from friends who just happen to be going through a very interesting version of the same tortures suffered by their audience.
Blume has also accumulated a great following among the 12-and-under set with her Fudge series, centering on the lives of preteen Peter Hatcher and his hilariously troublesome younger brother, Farley (a.k.a. Fudge). Blume’s books in this category are particularly adept at portraying the travails of siblings, making both sides sympathetic. Her 2002 entry, Double Fudge, takes a somewhat surreal turn, providing the Hatchers with a doppelganger of Fudge when they meet some distant relatives on a trip.
Blume has also had success writing for adults, again applying her ability to turn some of her own sensations into compelling stories. Wifey in 1978 was the raunchy chronicle of a bored suburban housewife’s infidelities, both real and imagined. She followed this up five years later with Smart Women, a novel about friendship between two divorced women living in Colorado; and 1998’s Summer Sisters, also about two female friends.
Blume has said she continually struggles with her writing, often sure that each book will be the last, that she’ll never get another idea. She keeps proving herself wrong with more than 20 books to her credit; hopefully she will continue to do so.
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Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was inspired by an article given to Blume by her babysitter about a toddler who swallowed a small pet turtle. She wrote a picture book introducing Fudge (based on her own then-toddler son), the turtle, and older brother Peter; but it was rejected. A few years later, E. P. Dutton editor Ann Durell suggested that Blume turn the story into a longer book about the Hatcher family. Blume did, and the Fudge legacy was born.
Blume is not an author without conflict about her station in life. She says on her web site that, as part of her "fantasy about having a regular job," she has a morning routine that involves getting fully dressed and starting at 9 a.m. She has also getting out of writing altogether."After I had written more than ten books I thought seriously about quitting," she writes. "I felt I couldn't take the loneliness anymore. I thought I would rather be anything but a writer. But I've finally come to appreciate the freedom of writing. I accept the fact that it's hard and solitary work."
Blume's book about divorce, It's Not the End of the World, proved ultimately to be closer to her own experience than she originally imagined. Her own marriage was in trouble at the time, but she couldn't quite face it. "In the hope that it would get better I dedicated this book to my husband," she writes in an essay. "But a few years later, we, too, divorced. It was hard on all of us, more painful than I could have imagined, but somehow we muddled through and it wasn't the end of any of our worlds, though on some days it might have felt like it."
Her most autobiographical book is Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself, says Blume. "Sally is the kind of kid I was at ten," Blume says on her web site.
Blume keeps setting Fudge aside, readers keep bringing him back. The sequel Superfudge was written after tons of fans wrote in asking for more of Farley Hatcher; again more begging led to Fudge-a-Mania ten years later. Blume planned never to write about Fudge again, but grandson Elliott was a persistent pesterer (just like Fudge), and got his way with 2002's Double Fudge.
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From the September/October 2002 issue of Book magazine
When Judy Blume wrote Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, her first book in the Fudge series, in 1972, she was a 34-year-old fledgling author with two young children. Thirty years later, Fudge, the tempestuous toddler based on Blume's son, is only a couple of years older -- while Blume is a grandmother with a household name. This time around, Blume says, she wrote about Fudge for her daughter's 10-year-old son, Elliot, who has been begging her for another Fudge book since he was seven. She made him work for Double Fudge by taking him to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. There, they were initiated into the unofficial Panda Poop Club, which entails holding and sniffing the poop of a genuine panda. "It was so totally pleasant," she says. "It just looked like a poop, but it smells like grass."
Of course, this is necessary research -- Double Fudge includes a panda poop scene -- for an author who has always displayed a knack for knowing exactly what kids are interested in. (The new book has a couple of other scenes that play to a toddler's affection for discussing bathroom habits. "They love it!" she says.)
Anyone who has ever read anything by Blume -- including Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret; Forever; Blubber; and Deenie -- knows she doesn't shy away from topics that make most adults uncomfortable. It's not that she goes for shock value; she just writes the truth about taboo subjects. She's written about menstruation, masturbation and teenage sex. She's fought censorship along the way, but the truth has paid off: Blume's books have sold more than 75 million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages.
Born and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Judy Sussman attended New York University, where she earned a degree in education and married a young lawyer, John Blume, her junior year. Soon thereafter, she had two children: a girl, Randy, in 1961, and a boy, Larry, in 1964. After enrolling in a writing class at NYU, the then-housewife wrote a few magazine articles before publishing her first book, The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo, in 1969. Although she wrote an edgy teen book dealing with racism in 1970 (Iggie's House), it wasn't until the publication of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret later that year that her name began to register among readers and critics. "I think that's the one that made me think I really am a writer," she says. Although that book, about a girl's struggle with puberty, has become something of a bible for girls, Blume says she never meant for it to be anything but a fictional chronicle of her own experiences. "I was really writing about the kind of kid I was in sixth grade, the late developer."
Over the years, Blume published many more books for children and teens, as well as several for adults. Three years after she divorced her husband in 1975, she wrote her first adult book, Wifey, about a frustrated young housewife. (In 1987 she got remarried to George Cooper, a nonfiction writer.) In 1998 she published Summer Sisters, a novel about a long-standing friendship between childhood friends. Soon after she told Cooper that Summer Sisters would "be the end of a wonderful career," the book shot to the top of bestseller lists.
In her lush Upper East Side penthouse (her third home in addition to ones in Key West and Martha's Vineyard), the lithe Blume talks about her upcoming Fudge tour. She says her publicist asked her to send a video of herself to the bookstores. "And I said, 'What -- to show them I'm still living? So people won't recoil in horror from looking at me?' Please. It's so weird, this age thing," she says. "You can write until you drop." She's not sure she will, though.
"I always say every book is my last. It's like having a baby," Blume says. "But two years later, you're thinking, 'I can do this again.' "
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