Judy Blume is 85 years old. On a press tour for the first time in almost ten years, for the movie Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, a hotly-anticipated adaptation of her uber-popular, formerly hyper-controversial book published over 50 years ago. This weekend, she was widely accused of being anti-trans, after she was quoted in The Times, a UK broadsheet, as having empathy and/or support for JK Rowling.
In fact, the headline, in big, bold letters, reads as follows:
“Judy Blume: ‘I’m behind JK Rowling 100 per cent”
Usually, our site style would link to the headline. I’m not doing that here, because it’s pretty clear the quote was, at best, assembled and disingenuous (and because whatever context could be gleaned from the article as written is behind a paywall).
I know it was disingenuous is because Judy Blume made this response, shortly after the piece was published:
April 16, 2023
Judy Blume is 85 years old. She has been criticized and banned more times than any of us remember, for acknowledging masturbation and racism and sexuality and prejudice in her books for young people, before most of us were even born. That was the impetus behind ‘Places I Never Meant To Be’, an anthology that she edited, comprised of other youth authors who had been censored and removed from libraries and banned in the United States decades ago. The book bans that are going on now must feel like so many reruns for her, and a slanderous headline is, sadly, par for the course. They thought they could get away with it.
I wasn’t there for the interview, obviously. But, since everyone is talking about context – it’s worth remembering that manipulation and outright lies from UK tabloids have, let’s say, a healthy precedent. Further, the quotes and transcripts the author, Hadley Freeman, has provided to ‘substantiate’ the headline? Paper thin, cobbled together, probably spurious, and even with alleged screenshots, still lacking context. (Those who are curious can see the alleged ‘proof’ here. )
If you’re still feeling queasy, it’s helpful to look at what else Blume has said on this same press tour, from more reputable publications – here, she points to her recent interview with Variety:
Per my recent interview with Variety: pic.twitter.com/ncLSyYqfql— Judy Blume (@judyblume) April 16, 2023
Judy Blume is 85 years old. She has seen some sh-t. She knows what happens when censorship takes hold – suddenly, everything is a wedge to divide people. Though the quote above is the one that’s floating around to ‘disprove’ the allegations, I prefer this one, also from the Variety article, when talking about pushback on Margaret in the Reagan era:
“It was bad in the ‘80s, but it wasn’t coming from the government. Today, there are laws being enacted where a librarian can go to prison if she or he is found guilty of having pornography on their shelves,” Blume said. “Try and define pornography today and you’ll find that it’s everything.”
It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to even indulge a comparison between Rowling and Judy Blume. But since we’re here, let’s get into it. Sadly, there are many, many examples of Rowling doubling down on hateful comments and championing exclusionary voices. Meanwhile, Judy Blume in that same Variety article, said this about the reaches of book bans and censorship:
“This is the real danger. That a governor can appoint someone to the legislature because he’s thinking this way, and getting laws about this, “she said. “We should have laws on the other side! That’s why organizations that work to protect the freedom to read widely and freely are so important.”
“I discovered ‘the little organization that could,’“ Blume continued, referencing the National Coalition Against Censorship, which is the nonprofit she’s chosen to highlight as a Power of Women honoree. “NCAC is right there on the front lines. If a teacher, librarian, parent or student needs help as books are being challenged in their classrooms, NCAC is on the other end of the phone to help.”
In the 80s and 90s when Judy Blume was at her most prolific, news pieces on her wondered how she could be so popular!? How could she get kids’ affection when writing such smut? (That last bit was editorializing on my part, but anyone who read the pieces back then knows it was heavily implied.) The most repeated sentiment from her readers was that ‘she remembers what it’s like to be a kid’. Obviously as a kid devouring everything she wrote, I agreed with that – but now, as an adult, and a writer myself, I realize that actually, she did something much more remarkable…
Judy Blume’s child characters regularly, routinely, interacted with flawed adults.
Some were clueless, some were cruel, but most were just self-interested grown-ups who thought they were infallible. They brushed aside their kids’ opinions and feelings, choosing to ignore anything but their own rose-coloured hopes as their children faced a new blended family or upward mobility or a nascent modeling career.
The real resonance of Judy Blume books, and the reasons kids related to them, was because they laid reality bare: adults are both in charge and imperfect, and kids have to cope. When they ban books, or gender-affirming healthcare, or abortion, or don’t ban assault weapons – millions of laws and rules to reinforce that, as a society, we don’t yet see kids as people. (Even better? She doesn’t exclude herself from flawed adulthood. Some of the best parts in her criminally underrated nonfiction book Letters to Judy: What Your Kids Wish They Could Tell You are diary-like entries where she highlights how she made choices that were bad or difficult for her kids, and that she didn’t necessarily want to see it at the time. Imagine!)
Judy Blume is 85 years old. She’s not perfect. But she knows when people try to shovel bullsh-t. I’m fairly sure nobody who loved her should worry that she’s on the wrong side of history. She has made a half-century long career out of listening to kids when nobody else would, and would probably prefer we all did that – in short, put our flawed adult selves to good use.