Books + Comics

So Many Kinds of Longing: An Interview With Judy Blume

She’s still helping us grow up.

Collage by Minna

Collage by Minna

Judy Blume has written many of the most sacred and lovingly dog-eared texts of my youth, including Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970), Just As Long As We’re Together (1987), Deenie (1973), and Iggie’s House (1970)—books that were controversial in their day and are still among the most frequently banned books in America because of their frank discussions of menstruation, masturbation, divorce, racism, sex, and other subjects that teenagers are already thinking about but that tend to make some adults squeamish. Through her stories of adolescence and coming of age, she has helped so many of us grow up and write our own coming-of-age stories.

Last month I got to attend a screening of Tiger Eyes, a beautiful movie based on Judy’s 1981 book of the same name, directed by her son Lawrence Blume, near Washington, DC, and I learned an important fact: Judy Blume gives great hugs! A week later we spoke on the phone about the film and about honesty, censorship, and masturbation.

JAMIA: Team Rookie wants to know: Will Margaret ever get the boobs she wants so desperately in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret?

JUDY BLUME: No! Margaret is never going to be more than 12 years old. But Margaret is just like me: an A cup for life!

I read that you voluntarily removed a scene about masturbation from the original manuscript of Tiger Eyes. The movie seems to restore this scene in a sneaky way, by showing [the protagonist] Davey in the shower in close-up, smiling. Can you talk about the decision to remove that scene from the book, and to include it in the movie?

Oh, everyone reads that. That story hurt my editor terribly, and I’d never want to hurt him. [The manuscript originally] said: “For the first time, I explored my body.” It was about Davey allowing herself to feel again after her father dies. There’s nothing explicit about it. My editor did say, “We want to have this read by as many readers as possible,” so I took it out. Do I have regrets? I don’t know. The question was: How important was this to the character? My editor agreed that this was psychologically important to the character coming into the world again, to feel again. Does it have much to do with whether the book is good at all? No. It would have made a big difference with Deenie.

I remember reading Deenie. At that point I’d never spoken to anyone about masturbation.

I’d never heard the word masturbation as a kid. There was a group of friends, and we all talked about whether we had a “special place,” and it was like, “Oh you have it too, interesting.” We were reassured that we weren’t the only ones. We never talked to adults about it. None of us. We weren’t sure it was OK. It was kept a secret from everyone. With Deenie. I was saying to kids, this is OK and it is normal. A lot of adults didn’t like that. That book disappeared for a while.

That book, like so many of your novels, has been continually banned and challenged by school districts. You’ve gotten so much flak over the years for being so honest about teenage girls’ lives. Did the criticism ever get to you? Did you ever question whether you were doing the right thing?

I never questioned what I was doing. Questioning is one thing—I always welcome thoughtful questioning—but this was virulent hatred from people who had never read my books. This was craziness.

The people who came after me in the ’80s were religious zealots. After that we went from extreme right-wing religious zealots to some extreme left-wing zealots who wanted to remove Huck Finn [from libraries]. If you listen to all these people, pretty soon you won’t have anything left. When you start telling readers what they can read and what they can’t, or teachers what they can teach and what they can’t, you’re on dangerous ground.

They wanted to remove The Perks of Being a Wallflower from a middle school library near Chicago. I met kids who were defending the book the week before I saw you. I met them on Saturday afternoon and Monday night they had to present [their case] in front of the school board. [Blume recorded a video supporting the students last month.] The kids won the vote to retain the book—I think it was six to one.

I was awarded the Chicago Tribune’s Young Adult Literary Prize [this year] and I gave the $5,000 check to the National Coalition Against Censorship [NCAC] in honor of the Kids’ Right to Read project. They are doing a lot of work on this issue. In the fall, the book will be available in middle school libraries, but it is not over.

You mean for all YA books?

I’ve said this: I don’t consider myself a YA writer, and I never did. I’ve been around long enough to remember when YA came in. I said it would turn kids off. There was no YA [category] when Tiger Eyes was published.

I’m not knocking YA. I’m just not into categories. But a lot of my good friends write very good YA books, like John Green, Carolyn Mackler, Rachel Vail, Tayari Jones. I just saw my latest little chicken in Charlottesville last week: Kristen-Paige Madonia. Her first book came out over the winter—it’s called Fingerprints of You. It is a very good book, and she has an original voice. She’s going to continue to get even better—and she’s very good now.

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26 Comments

  • KatGirl July 8th, 2013 3:04 PM

    Love this! :)

  • KatGirl July 8th, 2013 3:08 PM

    I love how honest Judy Blume is in her writing; as a young girl starting to have crushes/beginnings of sexual feelings I loved hearing that there were actually other people who were OK with exploring their own bodies. :)

  • FlowerandtheVine July 8th, 2013 3:19 PM

    I can’t wait to see Tiger Eyes. That was always my favorite Judy Blume book, followed closely by Summer Sisters, Forever, and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great! I still have all of my Judy books.

    http://flowerandthevine.wordpress.com

  • Abby July 8th, 2013 3:25 PM

    JUDY BLUUUUMMMEEE YESSSS. You GUYS. I have been waiting for this for my while life.

  • Mayabett July 8th, 2013 3:38 PM

    One of my biggest pre-adolescent regrets now is that I didn’t really read Judy Blume. I probably read one book, but not one of the ones mentioned here. Wow do I wish I had!

    On another note, Frances Ha was an awesome movie and I’m super glad it got a shout out here.

    • Scaramoosh July 8th, 2013 4:26 PM

      Totally agree. I only read a few because I treated reading like a ‘treat to do when everything’s done’ but everything is NEVER done!

      I started a book club to put in some accountability and it’s got me reading a few extra books a month now. Love that Jamia said she gets something different each time she reads them because of the different life experiences to bring back to the story. I’m thinking of suggesting some Judy Blume at our next meeting!

      http://www.the10principles.com/

  • ninesbadwolf July 8th, 2013 3:43 PM

    Judy Blume is wonderful. I read “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” in fourth grade after I got the “the talk” and it changed my life.

  • N.Arie July 8th, 2013 4:03 PM

    I must admit I never read, Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” or “Deenie” when I was a kid. And I always feel like I’m missing out something great. Maybe I will make up for lost time and read it this summer. Though when I was a kid I did read,”Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”and “Freckle Juice” and quite a few of her other books as well. I always loved her writing. Nice interview, Rookie!

    xoox

  • whiskeytangofoxtrot July 8th, 2013 4:05 PM

    Judy Blume! This made my day! And how envious am I that I don’t get to interview Ms. Blume?

  • Scaramoosh July 8th, 2013 4:41 PM

    I love that Judy Blume’s books are about helping people feel not so alone.

    As she states about her book Dennie (I haven’t read it yet!):

    “We were reassured that we weren’t the only ones. We never talked to adults about it. None of us. We weren’t sure it was OK. It was kept a secret from everyone. ”

    When you start to realize that if you’re doing something – chances are other people are doing it too, then you are really starting to put some pieces together that help you understand life, believe in yourself and seek help when you need it.

    http://www.the10principles.com/

  • actressgirl July 8th, 2013 6:28 PM

    I was kind of hoping you would ask her if Sheila and Peter ever got together.

    • Aurora July 8th, 2013 8:49 PM

      Freaking YES I loved “Tales of a fourth-grade nothing” and the rest of that series. SheilaXPeter is my OTP for life.

  • carofine July 8th, 2013 6:39 PM

    No way! I was at the DC screening of Tiger Eyes too! I work at that movie theater! I was probably standing behind you in the book signing line, Jamia because I remember the girl in front of me was talking to Judy about interviewing her. My Rookie life and real life are colliding.

    But really, Tiger Eyes is a great movie and everyone should see it. I loved it.

    • Jamia July 10th, 2013 8:45 AM

      My fiance and I remember you! We felt bad for talking to her so long when you were waiting in line to have your book signed. :) I LOVE that movie theatre. I wish I’d known about it when I lived in DC.
      xoxo

  • Sophie ❤ July 8th, 2013 6:43 PM

    Rookie: you just made my day! Judy Blume is one of my all time favorites, ever! [almost as much as Emma Watson]

    http://plainlysophie.com

  • myy July 8th, 2013 7:00 PM

    My sixth grade english teacher gave me all of Blume’s books as a gift . . . probably one of the best gifts I ever received! Lovely interview, Judy Blume is amazing!

    http://CactusFlowerBlog.blogspot.com/

  • Sorcha M July 8th, 2013 7:25 PM

    She seems like a really intelligent and sensitive woman. I like her. And I really want to see Tiger Eyes.

  • queserasera July 8th, 2013 10:44 PM

    blume’s answers are so thoughtful! i adored the fudge book series

    http://televiseddinner.blogspot.com/

  • Emilyis July 8th, 2013 11:10 PM

    Holy Crap <3 Judy Blume.

  • jessica j July 9th, 2013 1:25 AM

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • MeBeKi July 9th, 2013 2:39 AM

    Judy Blume is all that was and all that ever will be <3

    http://theoriesabound.wordpress.com/

  • wallflower152 July 9th, 2013 10:07 AM

    I read Margaret when I was 10 or 11 and it confused me, talking about the belt and stuff that you had to wear with a pad in those days. Also, I didn’t understand why these girls were excited about getting their periods. I was dreading mine haha. Good book nonetheless. You know a book makes an impact on you when you remember specific scenes over a decade later. I don’t think I read any of her other books though.

  • Ella W July 9th, 2013 5:04 PM

    I really need to get into Judy Blume books again! I read a few when I was around 8 or 9, but they were more of her kiddie series, like the Fudge series.
    I did read ‘Forever’ when I got a bit older, but this article makes me want to read some of her other books!
    Yet more books to add to my summer reading list!
    Ella x

    http://gorillalegs.blogspot.co.uk/

  • lauraunicorns July 9th, 2013 11:29 PM

    I love how she helped those girls who were fighting against the book ban! Perks is such a good book and it would be a shame to see it removed just cause a couple people had complaints about how it was “inappropriate.” Junior high kids are a lot more aware of things than people think. And I loved Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing too! My fourth grade teacher read it aloud to the class.

    http://lauraunicorns.tumblr.com

  • loonylizzy July 12th, 2013 8:27 PM

    JUDY BLUUUME!!! i have read “are you there god, it’s me margaret” religiously every year since i was 11. one of my favorite authors ever! thanks so much rookie!!!