Judy Blume (born Sussman; February 12, 1938) is an American writer of children’s, young adult (YA) and adult fiction. Some of her best known works are Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (1970), Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972), Deenie (1973), and Blubber (1974). The New Yorker has called her books “talismans that, for a significant segment of the American female population, marked the passage from childhood to adolescence.”
Publishing her first novel in 1969, Blume was one of the first authors to write young adults novels about topics that some still consider to be taboo including masturbation, menstruation, teen sex, birth control, and death. She was a catalyst for the movement of controversial topics being expressed in children’s and/or young adults literature. Blume expressed how adults were not honest with her about this information she shares with her readers. This has led to criticism from individuals and groups that would like to see her books banned. This controversy has led to the American Library Association (ALA) naming Blume as one of the most frequently challenged authors of the 21st century.
Despite her critics, Blume’s books have sold over 82 million copies and they’ve been translated into 32 languages. She has won a number of awards for her writing, including ALA’s Margaret A. Edwards Award for her contributions to young adult literature. She was recognized as a Library of Congress Living Legend and she was awarded the 2004 National Book Foundation medal for distinguished contribution to American letters.
- Fudge series
Blume was born on February 12, 1938, and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the daughter of homemaker Esther (née Rosenfeld) and dentist Rudolph Sussman. She has a brother, David, who is five years older. Her family was Jewish. Blume has recalled, “I spent most of my childhood making up stories inside of my head.” She graduated from Battin High School in 1956, then enrolled in Boston University. In the first semester, she was diagnosed with mononucleosis and took a brief leave from school before graduating from New York University in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in Education. In 1951 and 1952, there were three airplane crashes in her hometown of Elizabeth. 118 people died in the crashes, and Blume’s father, who was a dentist, helped to identify the unrecognizable remains. Blume says she “buried” these memories until she began writing her 2015 novel In the Unlikely Event, the plot of which revolves around the crashes.
A lifelong avid reader, Blume first began writing when her children were attending preschool, and she was living in the New Jersey communities of Plainfield and Scotch Plains. She published her first book, The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo, in 1969. The decade that followed proved to be her most prolific, with 13 more books being published, including many of her most well-known titles, such as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (1970), Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972), Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (1972), and Blubber (1974).
After publishing novels for young children and teens, Blume tackled another genre—adult reality and death. Her novels Wifey (1978) and Smart Women (1983) reached the top of The New York Times Best Seller list. Wifey became a bestseller with over 4 million copies sold. Blume’s third adult novel, Summer Sisters (1998), was widely praised and sold more than three million copies. It spent 5 months on The New York Times Bestseller list, with the hardcover reaching #3 and the paperback spent several weeks at #1. Several of Blume’s books appear on the list of top all-time bestselling children’s books.
Blume’s books have sold over 82 million copies and they’ve been translated into 32 languages. Judy Blume has won more than 90 literary awards, including three lifetime achievement awards in the US. The ALA Margaret A. Edwards Award recognizes one writer and a particular body of work for “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature”. Blume won the annual award in 1996 citing the single book Forever, published in 1975. According to the citation, “She broke new ground in her frank portrayal of Michael and Katherine, high school seniors who are in love for the first time. Their love and sexuality are described in an open, realistic manner and with great compassion.” In April 2000 the Library of Congress named her to its Living Legends in the Writers and Artists category for her significant contributions to America’s cultural heritage. In 2004 she received the annual Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Medal of the National Book Foundation as someone who “has enriched [American] literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work.”
The film version of Blume’s 1981 novel Tiger Eyes was directed by the author’s son, Lawrence Blume. Released in 2012, it stars Willa Holland as Davey and Amy Jo Johnson as Gwen Wexler.
Blume has championed intellectual freedom throughout her career, serving as an advocate against book banning and media censorship. In the 1980s, she began reaching out to other writers, as well as teachers and librarians, to join the cause. This led to Blume joining the National Coalition Against Censorship. All of her efforts go into helping protect the freedom to read. She is also the founder and trustee of a charitable and education foundation, called “The Kids Fund.” Blume serves on the board for other organizations such as, “the Author’s Guild; the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators; the Key West Literary Seminar; and the National Coalition Against Censorship.”
In October 2017, Yale University acquired Blume’s archive, which included some unpublished early work.
Marriages and family
On August 15, 1959, in the summer of her senior year of college, she married John M. Blume, whom she had met while a student at New York University. He became a lawyer, while she was a homemaker before supporting her family by teaching and writing. They had two children: Randy, a therapist (born 1961); and Lawrence Andrew, a filmmaker (born 1963). The couple were divorced in 1975. Blume later described the marriage as “suffocating”, although she maintained her first husband’s surname. Blume has stated that Lawrence was the inspiration for the character of “Fudge”. Blume has one grandchild from her daughter, Randy – a grandson named Elliot Kephart. Elliot is credited with encouraging his grandmother to write the most recent “Fudge” books.
Shortly after her separation, she met Thomas A. Kitchens, a physicist. The couple married in 1976, and they moved to New Mexico for Kitchens’ work. They divorced in 1979. She later spoke about their split: “It was a disaster, a total disaster. After a couple years, I got out. I cried every day. Anyone who thinks my life is cupcakes is all wrong.”
A mutual friend introduced her to George Cooper, a former law professor turned non-fiction writer. Blume and Cooper were married in 1987. Cooper has one daughter, Amanda, from a previous marriage. They resided in Key West.
Blume announced she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2012 after undergoing a routine ultrasound as she was preparing to leave for a five-week trip to Italy. She stated that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer 17 years earlier, and had a subsequent hysterectomy.
Blume’s novels for teenagers tackled racism (Iggie’s House), religion, menstruation (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.), divorce (It’s Not the End of the World, Just as Long as We’re Together), bullying (Blubber), masturbation (Deenie, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t), sexuality (Forever), and family issues (Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson). Blume has used these subjects to generate discussion, but they have also been the source of controversy regarding age-appropriate reading.
In popular culture
Blume is the subject of the 2018 song “Judy Blume” by Amanda Palmer. Thematically, the song cultivates in the listener an understanding of Blume’s role in Palmer’s adolescent life, Blume’s books influential in Palmer’s understanding of intimate and female-centered subjects such as puberty, menstruation, and the male gaze, and universal subjects like molestation, eating disorders, poverty, grief, and parental divorce.