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Judy Blume was banned from the beginning, but says 'It never stopped me from writing'

When Judy Blume began writing for pre-teens and teens in the '70s and '80s, young readers devoured her novels, which spoke to their hopes and anxieties. Two of her books Forever, and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret... were banned in some places.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Judy Blume decided to stop writing after the publication of her 2015 novel "In The Unlikely Event." But she's still a big part of pop culture. A new documentary streaming on Prime Video called "Judy Blume Forever" tells the story of how she went from suburban homemaker and mother to literary phenomenon. In the '70s, her novels for preteens and teens were bestsellers, but she also became famous for being banned. Her 1970 book, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." was banned because it was about an 11-year-old girl worried that all the other girls were getting their period, developing breasts and starting to wear bras, but she wasn't. Her 1975 book "Forever..." about a senior in high school who falls in love with a boy, they have a sexual relationship, pledge to be together forever until she realizes she's not ready to commit to forever - that was banned in many places, too, as was her novel "Deenie" about a teenager diagnosed with scoliosis who has to wear a brace because that book mentioned that she'd discovered a special place in her body that gave her pleasure.

The American Library Association has consistently placed Blume on its list of most frequently banned authors, but the people banning her books can't ban the new film adaptation of her novel "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.," which opens on Friday. A Netflix series reimagining Blume's novel "Forever..." is in the works, and Peacock is planning to produce an adaptation of "Summer Sisters," one of Blume's novels for adults. Blume lives with her husband in Key West, Fla. Her state is the home of the Stop Woke Act and what's become known as the Don't Say Gay law. Florida is also known for banning many books from school libraries, including Blume's. She and her husband co-founded a nonprofit bookstore in Key West, where there's a section devoted to banned books.

Judy Blume, welcome to FRESH AIR. The documentary is wonderful. Congratulations on that. Congratulations on the new film adaptation of "Margaret" and of all the other adaptations in the works. So I want to ask you, you know, you first experienced censorship in the 1980s after Ronald Reagan was elected and the Moral Majority and the Christian right, which had supported Reagan, were very politically empowered. And you've said it's different now because now it's the government doing some of the censoring. Can you talk about that a little bit, about the difference from your point of view?

JUDY BLUME: Well, you know, I live in Key West, and even though we like to pretend that Key West is not in the state of Florida, it is. And we have the same governor. And just in Florida and just with our governor and our elected legislators, this is what's different. I mean, the censorship is coming from the government, coming from the legislators, who are out there trying to pass laws that, to me, are crazy. And, you know, they're trying to pass laws about what we can think, what our kids can think, what they can know, what they can talk about. I mean, there's legislation going on right now that says that girls in elementary school are not allowed to speak about menstruation. They can't talk about getting their periods. They can't ask any questions of their teachers. And the teachers cannot answer anything. I mean, this is - you know, where are we? What country is this?

GROSS: In your bookstore, you have a banned book section. And I think there's a sign out front saying, we sell banned books. What's in the banned book section?

BLUME: Well, that depends. It changes regularly, and we can't even begin to put all the banned books on one small table. So the display changes. And I have some picture books that I'm very, very fond of right now. One is called "Julian Is A Mermaid," and the other is "Julian At The Wedding." And those books are under attack. They're beautifully illustrated, funny and charming books. And Julian likes to dress up in feathers and beads, and he has a wonderful aunt who understands him and allows him to be himself. And so, you know, that - who knows what - you know, who knows what Julian is going to turn out to be in his life? But this frightens people. They don't want kids to know that this is even possible, that a boy could like getting dressed up.

GROSS: Let's talk a little bit about "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.," which has just been adapted into a new film that opens Friday. And this was, like, your breakthrough book. This was your book that became huge. It became a phenomenon. And you describe it as the first book that was written from the inside, not the outside. It's about an 11-year-old girl who's moved from Manhattan to suburban New Jersey. She's worried about fitting in to her new neighborhood and her new school, especially since some of the girls are going through puberty. They're wearing bras. They're getting their period, and she's not. How was menstruation first described to you? Who told you about it, and what was your reaction?

BLUME: So I was about 9 years old, and we had family in Queens, N.Y. We lived in New Jersey. And we went to visit for the day. And my older cousin Grace (ph) wasn't feeling well. And I kept saying, what's wrong? What's wrong? And she said, you'll find out when you're 13. And all the way home, I kept saying to my father, I think, what will I find out when I'm 13? I want to know what I'll find out when I'm 13. What will happen? And so when we got home, my father took me on his lap. He's the one - he's the parent, the designated teller of truths. But when it came to telling me about menstruation, I came away from this discussion believing that, at a certain time, when the moon was full, all women all over the world were having this wonderful experience.

And so when I would look out the window and it was a full moon, it was, like, aha, I know what's going on. I didn't really understand the lunar cycle that he was trying to explain to me. He made it harder, I think, than it should have been. He tried his best. He always tried his best. So that was how I first learned. And then a little bit later on, my friend Rozzy had a book. Her parents had given her a book, and that book explained it. You know, this was a long time ago, Terry. This was in the '50s. But it explained it a little bit better. We were all very, very excited.

GROSS: See; this is why a book like "Margaret" is so important and was especially important when you wrote it - because girls need to hear other girls talk about it and to read about it. It's such a big deal, you know?

BLUME: And that - I mean, and that it's healthy and normal and...

GROSS: Yeah.

BLUME: ...Something to celebrate.

GROSS: And that it sometimes comes late. I mean, my mother told me she got her period when she was 9, and she tried - for years, you know, she tried to prepare me for a really early period, which I didn't have early. And so, like Margaret, I thought, like, is something wrong with me, you know?

BLUME: Well, that's the thing. I mean, the girls in "Margaret" and Margaret herself and - looking back to my life, I wanted to know that I was normal and that I was OK.

GROSS: I want you to read a passage from "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." And this gets to two things. It gets to menstruation, and it also gets to her relationship with God. And I should preface this by saying she has one parent - Margaret has one parent who's Christian and one parent who's Jewish, and they're both pretty secular. And in this passage, Margaret is really yearning to get her period. She feels so left behind.

BLUME: (Reading) Nancy and her family went to Washington over Lincoln's birthday weekend. I got a postcard from her before she got back, which means she must have mailed it the second she got there. It only had three words on it - I got it. I ripped the card into tiny shreds and ran to my room. There was something wrong with me. I just knew it. And there wasn't a thing I could do about it. I flopped onto my bed and cried. Next week, Nancy would want to tell me all about her period and about how grown up she was. Well, I didn't want to hear her good news. Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret. Life is getting worse every day. I'm going to be the only one who doesn't get it. I know it, God. Just like I'm the only one without a religion. Why can't you help me? Haven't I always done what you wanted? Please, let me be like everybody else.

GROSS: You talked to God - right? - when you were young. And your parents were Jewish and secular. What was their reaction to you talking to God? 'Cause I have to say, you know, in - Judaism doesn't have that kind of personal relationship with God that so many Christians have.

BLUME: Well, my father grew up Orthodox, and nobody ever knew that I was talking to God. Who would know that, unless God was telling them? I mean, you know, that was my personal relationship. And it began when I was separated from my father for a year because we - my brother had been sick and my mother and my grandmother and the two children had to go to Miami Beach for the school year. And my father, a dentist, had to stay behind in New Jersey and came to visit as often as he could. But, you know, it was a long time ago. People didn't jump on planes then. And when I was separated from my beloved father is when I started talking to God. I believed that I - it was up to me to protect him. I had to keep him safe. I had to keep him well - a terrible burden, you know, for a 9-year-old kid - or 8, really, when I left. And so I would make all kinds of bargains with God. And I had little prayers that I repeated a certain number of times a day. And I hung on to it for a while.

GROSS: Did you raise your children with religion?

BLUME: You know, I was kind of angry at organized religion there for a while, and I wanted it to be different. I wanted something different. And I read about a rabbi who did things differently. And I wanted to be a part of his group. I wanted my kids to. It - that never happened. But we tried joining a synagogue and sending the kids to Sunday school. It didn't work for me. I just felt they were learning things that I didn't like, and they were not bat and bar mitzvahed.

GROSS: What were your children being taught in Sunday school that you didn't approve of?

BLUME: I didn't like how much we are the chosen people, and we are different, and we are better - I didn't like that.

GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Judy Blume. There's a new documentary about her streaming on Amazon Prime called "Judy Blume Forever," and Friday, a movie adaptation of her novel "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." opens in theaters. We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL BELLAR AND THE AS-IS ENSEMBLE'S "HOT BOX MAGIC")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Judy Blume. A new documentary about her called "Judy Blume Forever" is streaming on Amazon Prime. The new movie adaptation of her famous novel "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." opens on Friday. A Netflix series that's a reimagining of her novel "Forever..." is in the works, and an adaptation of her novel "Summer Sisters" is being produced for Peacock.

So when you started being banned - when your books started being banned, was that intimidating? Like, what was your emotional and your writerly reaction to that?

BLUME: It was very emotional. I was a new-ish (ph), young-ish (ph) writer, and it was hard to take. I - it was depressing, actually. It never stopped me from writing. It's really interesting. I mean, you know, because in those days I was going from book to book because it was such a thing for me. I mean, writing so changed my life. And in some ways it saved my life. Much later, you know, I had death threats because of my association with Planned Parenthood. But when I was first, you know, banned, it was great for me to learn that I wasn't alone and that other writers and some writers - I mean, Norma Klein was my first writer friend, and the two of us were bound together always - Norma and Judy, Norma and Judy. So, you know, I found out I wasn't alone.

GROSS: So you mentioned Planned Parenthood. There's a 2014 edition of your 1975 novel "Forever...," which was banned in many places because it's a book about, you know, an 18-year-old girl who falls in love for the first time, and she and her boyfriend pledge to be together forever. And they have a sexual relationship. But at the beginning of the book, you have a note to readers, and this is just for the new - for the relatively new 2014 edition 'cause the book is from 1975. I'd like you to read that note to the reader.

BLUME: (Reading) A note to the reader - when I wrote "Forever..." in the mid-'70s, sexual responsibility meant preventing unwanted pregnancy. Today, sexual responsibility also means preventing transmitted infections, STIs, including a potentially fatal one, HIV/AIDS. In the book, Katherine visits a clinic and is given a prescription for the pill. Today, she would be told it's essential to use a condom along with any other method of contraception to reduce the risk of getting an STI. If you're going to become sexually active, then you have to take responsibility for your own actions and your own life.

GROSS: And then after that, you give contact information for Planned Parenthood and another website about sexuality. It seems to me you felt a real responsibility to update that novel and give good health - you know, health protection information. Can you talk about deciding to do that?

BLUME: First of all, I didn't update the novel. Let's get that straight.

GROSS: Right. And is that what made you feel like you needed to add this introduction? - because the novel - the preparation for sex seemed incomplete in the era that we are now.

BLUME: Yes. I certainly wanted to be responsible. I mean, the book is about taking responsibility for your actions, and it's about sex with responsibility, rather than what my daughter was reading when she asked for a book about two nice kids who do it and nobody has to die. She was reading books in which, if a girl succumbed, a girl was always, always punished. So, yeah, I mean, things changed. I think it was mostly with AIDS that I felt, this is your life. I have to tell these kids about this.

GROSS: It also goes, I think, counter to what people who banned your books thought about you - that, oh, you're being irresponsible. You're teaching teenagers to have sex. And you were teaching teenagers who were having sex to be responsible about it.

BLUME: Yeah. I've had a lot of letters about, you know, after I read your book, I decided I was going to wait (laughter). I don't know what that means, but I think that's good, you know, that it gives them the chance to weigh - you don't have to do this if you don't want to. You can say no as easily as you can say yes or say nothing and just do it. I think that's important. I mean, you know, we grew up in an era, you and I, Terry - right? - when, if a girl succumbed to this - because girls never had sexual feelings then. But I did. And yet I knew that it would be very dangerous for me to "go all the way," quote-unquote. I knew that it would be dangerous for me to go all the way and actually have intercourse. I knew that because there were girls in my class who got pregnant, and I know what that did to their lives. I mean, that changed their lives. And I was very interested in sex, but I was careful.

GROSS: Yeah, I had the pill by the time I was ready. So...

BLUME: Oh, you're a kid.

GROSS: (Laughter) But, you know - so there wasn't that fear, but there was a sense of, you know, if you don't want to get pregnant, you'd better do something to prevent it. So let's take another short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Judy Blume, and there's a new documentary about her called "Judy Blume Forever," which is streaming on Amazon. And there's a new movie adaptation of her famous novel, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.," which opens on Friday. We'll be right back after a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU'S "LIFE ON MARS?")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Judy Blume, who became famous for her pre-teen and teen novels, like "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.," "Forever...," "Deenie" and "Superfudge." She also became famous for having several of her books banned because the stories involved puberty and menstruation, first love and first encounters with sexuality, and in one book, a reference to masturbation. Blume has also written bestselling adult novels, including "Wifey" and "Smart Women." Now "Are You There God?" has been adapted into a movie that opens Friday. And adaptations of "Superfudge" and "Summer Sisters" are in the works, as well as a series reimagining her novel "Forever." She now lives with her husband in Key West, Fla., where they founded a bookstore. One section is devoted to banned books.

Your books have meant so much in the lives of your young readers because, you know, they were hungry for this kind of material that spoke honestly about, you know, puberty and first love and first kisses and beyond first kisses. And a lot of your readers wrote you to share their secrets, to ask you for your advice. There's, like, cartons and cartons and cartons of those letters now in the Yale archive. And you read some of those letters in the movie. Some of the letter writers who were found, you know, as adults read the letters that they wrote you in their teens. But it's interesting that you felt this sense of responsibility to write back to them. I don't know how many of the readers you actually responded to, but why did you feel that sense of responsibility to correspond back as opposed to just having a standard thank you for your note?

BLUME: I don't want to mislead the listeners here, thinking that I wrote back to every kid because at one point I was getting 2,000 letters a month, so that wouldn't have been possible. But I read them. And some of them just - I don't know how you could possibly ignore them. I mean, they were so in need. And they trusted me. And at one point, many years down the line, I did have to consult a professional because I got to the point where there were kids who I felt I had to save. And I didn't know how to save them. And the therapist that I saw about this helped me understand that that wasn't my job, that I couldn't do that. But what I could do was be - I could be a trusted adult friend.

GROSS: You know, you've said that your own children didn't come to you for advice in the way that your readers did. How did you interpret that? What did you think that that said to you both as an author and as a mother?

BLUME: Well, I think my kids were like the other kids, the kids who were writing to me sometimes. And it's easier to tell somebody who's not at the breakfast table the next morning, somebody you might never meet, somebody who might not even be real but you believe that she is. I wasn't a perfect mother, you know? I wasn't the mother that all those kids thought I would be if only I could be their mother. It's hard. It's so hard. I mean, I wanted to be - I wanted desperately to be the kind of parent that my kids could come to. And sometimes they did. Sometimes they did. You know, they could ask me questions. They certainly knew that. And they would get answers to their questions. Things that were going on in their own lives, they didn't always come to me.

GROSS: Did they read your books? Did they know that you were a sympathetic figure in terms of understanding the world of teenagers?

BLUME: Yeah, pre-teens mostly. Yes. They absolutely read my books. They knew my books very well.

GROSS: How did that affect your relationship with them?

BLUME: Oh. We could talk about characters in other books because talking about characters is so much easier than talking about yourself or your mom. So it's not me and you, it's Karen and her mother. Or, you know, it's another character and her parent. And so we were sometimes able to do that. It got harder when they were mid-teenage years. I mean, those are hard years, you know? What can I say? We've come through it, thank goodness.

GROSS: Did you feel that although your experiences really helped you in writing your novels for pre-teens, that by the time your children were teenagers, they were living in a different world than the one you grew up in?

BLUME: When they were teenagers, when they were in high school and even late junior high, we were living in New Mexico. It was the '70s. You know, it was a different time, certainly a different time. It was druggy and sexy and very different. And it made it very hard for me because, you know, I've always taken the kid's side. That doesn't necessarily make you a better parent. It might make you a less effective parent.

GROSS: How so?

BLUME: Because you're seeing it through their eyes. And, you know, did I set up enough rules? I don't think so. And also, remember where I was then. I was a mother who had never rebelled. I had never stepped outside of the rules, really. I had a very traditional '50s first marriage that I left after 16 years. And I wanted that '70s freedom. I wanted to be, you know - I wanted to be a young woman then with flying hair and listening to music. I never did try drugs. But, you know, I wanted to be out there.

GROSS: But it was too late, or you were too confined by your marriages.

BLUME: Oh, I did do that. I went out there.

GROSS: Oh, you did do that? Oh, OK.

BLUME: I went out there. Yes. I mean, I wanted to try it all. I mean, that's - doesn't make for a great parent, you know, to be a teenage rebel when your children are being teenage rebels.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is Judy Blume. And there's a new documentary about her called "Judy Blume Forever," which is streaming on Amazon. And there's a new movie adaptation of her novel "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.," which opens on Friday. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT WILSON'S "HUG")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Judy Blume. There's a new documentary about her called "Judy Blume Forever," which is streaming on Amazon Prime. The new movie adaptation of her novel "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." opens on Friday.

You grew up in the '50s, and you met your first husband when you were a sophomore in college. I think you got married before you graduated, and then you had your first child soon after. He was already a lawyer. You didn't know who you were yet. And so after that, you became, on the outside, a kind of conventional, you know, mother, homemaker, wife in suburban New Jersey where none of the women in your neighborhood worked. And neither did you until you started writing a few years later.

BLUME: Yeah, but I started writing early on. I mean, I started really - you know, I had a first career. I made felt pictures in my basement, and I sold them to Bloomingdale's which was a very heady experience. I carried them in a suitcase and took the train into New York with my samples, and they bought them. They paid me $9 a piece, and they sold them for $18. And it was...

GROSS: Wait. Describe one of these.

BLUME: It was a thrill. I bought fabric in the little fabric store in Westfield, N.J. And I had little boards that I made them on. I made ballerinas and soldiers. And it was a picture that you hung on your child's wall, and it had your child's name on it. And it could - you know, they could give me a color scheme if they wanted. They were made-to-order. And it was - I - it sounds so ridiculous. I can't even tell you how thrilling it was for me to do that because suddenly I had work. I needed desperately to have creative work. It could have been any creative work, you know? But these were - the possibilities that I saw were - was work that I could do at home with the kids. But after a couple of years, you know, my fingers - I have a lot of allergies, and I had a bad reaction to the glue I was using. So I had to find another career. And that's when I started to write.

GROSS: When you discovered feminism, was it exciting to find women like you who wanted to break out of the traditional role they had been cast in?

BLUME: Yes, that was very exciting. That didn't really happen for me until I started to write and get published - my early books - and maybe go to some meetings. Actually, you know, I took a class, and even that was a huge thing. That class was in the '60s, and it was at my alma mater, NYU, and it was a continuing education class in writing for kids through the tweens. And it spoke to me because that's what I was starting to do. And I decided to take that class. That was - I know nobody can understand this today, but that was such a big thing in my life that every Monday I was going to get on a bus and go to New York City, and I wasn't going to be there for supper. And my first husband was going to have to deal with the kids, and he took them out. You know, he took them out someplace for spaghetti or hamburgers, but he did it, and he put them to bed. They were asleep when I came home. That was the - kind of the first thing I did aside from the felt pictures, you know, for me and something that I needed to do. And I did it.

GROSS: You divorced your husband after - your first husband after 16 years of marriage, and you said you realized that you were living the life your mother wanted you to lead. And it was time to lead the life you wanted to lead.

BLUME: Yeah. You know, he was a - I have to say, he's dead now. He was a good and loyal person but from another era. It seemed that he was from another era. And he wasn't - you know, he wasn't stepping up to the plate - to the new era of the '60s, and he didn't want me to either. He really - he wanted me the way I was when we met and married. I mean, he wanted me to stay his little wifey. And he didn't mind that I was writing. This was before I was, you know, even published. He didn't mind it as long as it didn't interfere at all with his way of life - you know, that dinner would be ready when he came home. And I was expected to take care of the kids and run the household. And he was the one who was earning the living.

GROSS: The way you're putting it, it sounds like he was allowing you to write.

BLUME: Maybe that's true, I don't know. I mean, I think I would have - I don't know what I would have done. Would I have - I don't think I would have stopped writing because he would say, I don't want you to do this. He never said that. He made jokes. You know, I just have to buy Judy paper and pencils and she's happy. It's like, you know, a parent would say, oh, give him crayons and a - and paper and what a happy child.

GROSS: Oh.

BLUME: That's the...

GROSS: Yeah.

BLUME: ...Way it was.

GROSS: When you decided you were going to end the marriage, as a writer, did you plan out the words you wanted to use? Did you write a draft so that you'd have clear in your mind this was going to be such a consequential moment?

BLUME: I actually wrote a letter to my children, trying to explain - I don't know what I was trying to explain. You know, the usual, we both love you and - but this is what we're going to do. And we had been friends, my husband and I, we had been friends. And it was much, much harder to leave and be divorced than I ever dreamed it would be. That was, you know, part of my fantasy. It was not easy. It was the hardest time in my life. And I jumped, you know, from that safe marriage - marriage that my mother really did love for me because he was a good provider, and that was her No. 1 concern - and I jumped into a second marriage that never should have been a marriage. You know, I met a guy on a plane and I thought this was really exciting. And I followed him to England, where he was living, and we got married. The kids were with me, of course, and that was the true disaster.

You know, the first marriage was - I don't want to say the divorce was acceptable, but the first marriage was much more understandable. And the second marriage was Judy going through her very late, adolescent rebellion. But still, I married him because the authority figures in my life said I had to. That was my mother and my former husband. You have to be married. You can't have the kids if you're not married. And so I married him. That was stupid. But, you know, just one of many stupid mistakes. I guess we all have our mistakes.

GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Judy Blume. There's a new documentary about her streaming on Amazon Prime called "Judy Blume Forever," and Friday, a movie adaptation of her novel "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." opens in theaters. We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRED KATZ'S "OLD PAINT")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Judy Blume. A new documentary about her, called "Judy Blume Forever," is streaming on Amazon Prime. The new movie adaptation of her famous novel "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." opens on Friday. A Netflix series that's a reimagining of her novel "Forever..." is in the works, and an adaptation of her novel "Summer Sisters" is being produced for Peacock.

So I'm going to jump ahead a little bit to 2015 when you wrote your last novel, "In The Unlikely Event," and you decided that was it, that you were going to stop writing, at least stop writing books.

BLUME: Long books, yes...

GROSS: Long books.

BLUME: ...I said - at that time, I said long - no more novels, because that was five years. And it was hard, but I really enjoyed it. And I felt - I don't know, I just felt that was the book I was born to write. That was a story I was meant to tell. And now, after so many years of writing, I had told it.

GROSS: Did you know what you wanted to do with your life after that? How old were you then?

BLUME: I mean, I'm 85 now, so maybe I wasn't quite 80. Maybe I was 78. But I didn't want to be locked up anymore. I didn't want to be confined. I wanted to come out. I like people. I'm a people person. And I wanted to find another way. I don't know what I would have done - if the bookstore hadn't fallen into our laps, I'm not sure what I would have done. I might have, you know, taken a year off and then said, this is ridiculous, I'm going to write another book because I like projects, and I like to be involved in creative projects.

GROSS: You've written about transitions in the lives of young people and in adults. Do you feel like you're going through a transition now into older age?

BLUME: Well, I'm certainly going into older age, but I don't look at it as a transition. It's something to accept. And, you know, I've been very, very lucky, Terry. I mean, everything still works. I can tap dance if I want to. I've given up riding my bicycle around Key West this year because I've seen too many people going down one-way streets the wrong way. And I am aware that, you know, one fall off my bike could break a hip. And I don't want to be there. So I miss it, but I accept it. I can do a lot of other things.

GROSS: How does being 85 compare to what you expected?

BLUME: (Laughter) I never expected to be 85. You know that I grew up in a family where my father's siblings - there were seven. He was the baby. Nobody lived to be 60. So I always thought I would die very young. And I think I was in a hurry because I thought I would die young. So you know, that was with the books - one book after another, after another. I had a lot to get out. And it really wasn't until I met George, and that's - what? - we're together 43 years, I think. And I got personally very happy that I let up on that - I, you know, no longer worried that it was going to be tomorrow or the next day - and that I had more time to enjoy life.

GROSS: You mentioned your father. I think he was in his 50s when he died, right?

BLUME: Fifty-four.

GROSS: Yeah, that's so young.

BLUME: When I think of that now - our youngest child, who is my stepdaughter, is 55. And, you know, my kids are both older than that. And it's, like, so young, so young.

GROSS: I know I need to let you go, but there's just one more question I want to ask you. How do you like the new movie adaptation of your novel "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret?"

BLUME: I am so lucky. I love it so much. It's so right, and after so many years of saying, no, no, no, and take it off the table. I would say to my agent, this is off the table. I don't want to hear anything about anybody wanting to do it. I got this fabulous letter. But that wouldn't be enough because I've had a lot of fabulous letters. But she had real credential. This Kelly Fremon Craig was the writer and director of a movie that I had seen and loved. When she told me that this was her movie, "The Edge Of Seventeen," I mean, I'd seen it not that long before I got her message.

And she said to me, and my mentor is James L. Brooks. And he worked with me every step of the way on "The Edge Of Seventeen." And he would do the same if you granted us, you know, the right to do this. And they came to Key West. And they saw me. And it was a wonderful afternoon of talking. And I thought, yes, I'm going to do this. And they were so inclusive, unlike other experiences that I had had. I was in there, too. And I was on the set for five weeks and got to know a lot of the actors, young and older. And it was a collaboration.

GROSS: I just love that, like, you stopped writing, but now your works are coming back to you in different form, with love.

BLUME: They are, yes.

GROSS: Yeah.

BLUME: I'm very lucky. Thank you.

GROSS: Well, you know, congratulations on the new movies. And it was great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

BLUME: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: The film adaptation of "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." opens Friday. The new documentary "Judy Blume Forever" is streaming on Prime Video. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about parenting in the age of diet culture. Our guest will be journalist Virginia Sole-Smith, author of the new book "Fat Talk." She argues that efforts to fight childhood obesity have caused kids to absorb an onslaught of body shaming from peers, school, diet culture and parents themselves. I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARC RIBOT'S "THE KID")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARC RIBOT'S "THE KID") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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