Never Meet Your Hero, Unless Your Hero Is Judy Blume

Are you there Judy Blume? It’s us, your loyal readers. The prolific author sat down with E! News to answer all of our questions about growing up and taking charge.

By Jamie Blynn Apr 26, 2023 2:00 PMTags
Watch: Judy Blume "So Grateful" to See Margaret As a Movie After 50 Years

Do you remember the first time you experienced real heartbreak? Because I do—in vivid detail, no less.
Tucked away in my childhood bedroom, all of 12 years old, I felt that gut-wrenching crack as I finished Judy Blume's Forever and learned that, despite what every other book told me, love doesn't guarantee you a happily ever after. And, let me tell you reader, I was freakin' furious. 
"It's never a fairytale, no matter what your age," Blume tried explaining to me 20 years later as I sat down with the prolific author at her Key West bookstore. The passage of time hadn't healed any wounds, though: I was still bitter about how Katherine and Michael's story ended. 

"I knew they would break up," she continued. "I knew she would move on. She wasn't ready. They were seniors in high school. Life was out there waiting."

Turns out, that was true both for Katherine and for me. But throughout my adolescence, I had one constant: Blume in my back pocket, providing the blueprint to navigating everything from periods and sex to first love.

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For Blume, it was easy to slip her feet right into her characters' shoes despite having lived through those unbearably awkward moments decades before. "When I started to write," she admitted, "I identified so much more with the child I was than with the adult woman I was supposed to be. I can remember everything about it, what it felt like. If you scratch me, you will find the 12-year-old underneath."

Marion Curtis/StarPix; E! Illustration

Today, at 85, she still has that child-like energy, exuding the excitement of someone just getting started. And perhaps, in a way, she is. Because despite having published more than 25 books—and selling 90 million copies—Hollywood is just waking up to Blume's work.

Judy Blume Forever, a documentary on her life, is out now and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret—starring Rachel McAdams and Abby Ryder Fortson—hits theaters April 28. Plus, a reimagining of Forever is destined for Netflix

The way Blume sees it, the devoted readers who once checked her books out of their local libraries have now graduated to corner offices—and with that comes an influence over our screens. "The executives are old enough now that they grew up on my books, and they want them," she shared. "It's a very different situation. I love it."

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Admittedly, she had her fears. For nearly 50 years, she turned down offers to adapt Margaret—about the titular sixth grader who barters with God and feels she must, she must, she must increase her bust—until director Kelly Fremon Craig wrote to her then flew down to Florida to make a case face-to-face. 

"She could tell my adoration for her was sincere," Fremon Craig told E! News. "When I wrote her that letter, it was a love letter. It was how much her work had been a guiding light for me. I wanted to write things that made people feel the way Judy Blume made me feel."

Mission accomplished. Once convinced, Blume—who joked "it's amazing I'm around to see this"—had one sticking point: "'You cannot turn this into today,'" she instructed Fremon Craig of the 1970s-set book. "It would be completely different." Though, as she allowed, "the feelings would be the same."

Because while Gen Z has TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube and whatever else the kids are into, they're still forced to forge through those awkward years just like the rest of us. 

"Electronics change, the way we live might change, but what's inside, I don't think that changes so much," Blume mused. "There's a connection there between generations."

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Perhaps she's that connection. With an innate ability to know what we needed to hear before we knew we needed to hear it, she made our deepest secrets—like how Deenie found comfort in that special spot on her body—feel celebrated.

As Blume put it, she received zillions of letters from readers who wrote to share their insecurities and ask those uncomfortable questions. "For some of those kids," she said, "I became the diary they could talk to. You're not going to see this person at the breakfast table the next day, so it's safe." (For what it's worth, however, she admitted those conversations weren't as easy to have with her own kids Lawrence and Randy: "I was a regular parent!")

More often than not, she wrote back—which is why I spent the better part of a weekend trying to hack into my AOL account to show Blume the response she once sent me.

But, like any superhero knows, with great power comes great responsibility—and an even greater burden.

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"There were kids I so wanted to save," she said, noting she ultimately sought the advice of a therapist. "She helped me understand that what I could do was be a supportive adult in their lives, give them somebody they can write to, help them find professional help if they needed it."

Then came the hate mail, including the 700 death threats she received in one day from Planned Parenthood detractors who were instructed to attack the outspoken activist.

"It was frightening," she recalled. "But it's not going to stop me from saying what I think we all have to stand up and fight for, which is our freedoms as women, as readers."

Judy Blume

Growing up, she was encouraged to page through any book of her choosing: "Nobody ever said to me, ‘You can't read that.'" And when John O'Hara's A Rage to Live—which follows a married woman's sexual affairs—was locked away at her high school, she found a copy through her aunt.

"I stayed up all night reading," she said, "and I didn't become a nymphomaniac."

That's a note to anyone leading the charge to have MargaretDeenie and Forever pulled from shelves due to their depictions of menstruation, masturbation and sex. 

"People used to say, ‘No, I don't want them to read Margaret because if they read Margaret, she's going to go through puberty,'" Blume said. "Well, guess what? Your kids are going to go through puberty whether you like it or not."

So why not allow Blume to help them through it like she did the rest of us? "It's good for kids to experience feelings through books," she said. "It makes them more empathetic. It makes them better people."

Victoria Sirakova/Getty Images

Even today, as her readers enter their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, they're still turning to Blume as a beacon of knowledge.

"You know how many letters I get asking me, ‘Please, please can Margaret come back and go through menopause?'" she revealed. "And I'm like, ‘No, Margaret is never going through menopause. Margaret is always going to be 12!'"

And while it may not be the guide to middle-age they were hoping for, she does have a message for her OG supporters. 

"I want them to know that they're wonderful," Blume said. "And don't give up because determination is more important than anything in life. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you let the critics—you have to kick them off your shoulder."

While she's done writing—"I've said what I need to say"—her books are the sort of timeless tales that you can always return to with an older, wiser set of eyes and still walk away with a new lesson from Blume. And though she doesn't want to discuss her legacy ("it seems so weird"), she's recently been forced to think about what she'll one day leave behind. 

"I think it's just that my books have touched lives and so I have touched lives," she mused. "And what more could anyone ask for?"

Just a conversation with their hero, Judy Blume.

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