Tuesday, April 17, 2012

143: The Self-Empowered Woman: Judy Blume

Dear Followers,

The above picture of me with Judy Blume was taken at the pre-screening party (at the Palm Beach International Film Festival) for the film version of her best selling book Tiger Eyes. As those of you who read The Self-Empowered Woman know, we have been friends since 1978, when I reviewed Wifey for the Los Angeles Times. It was her first-ever novel for adults (5: Risk Addiction), and we bonded over her story of a woman rebuilding her life, as well as a number of other shared experiences.

Judy Sussman Blume was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, when her brother, David, was five years old. Her Mom, Esther, was a homemaker and her father, Ralph, was a dentist. My father died when I was 19, and Judy's father died of a heart attack when she was 21 (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

Even though she wasn't aware of having the ambition of growing up to become a writer (in her words "...I always loved to read. I didn't know anything about writers. It never occurred to me that they were regular people and that I could grow up to become one, even though I loved to make up stories inside my head...I never wrote down any of my stories. And I never told anyone about them...I spent most of my childhood making up stories.") (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

Her father had six brothers and sisters, many of whom died while Judy was growing up. And even though her childhood home was "culturally Jewish rather than religious" she admits that "a lot of my philosophy came from growing up in a family that was always sitting Shiva." (3: Belief in the Unbelievable).

Judy has been criticized because her novels were among the first books for young readers to tackle issues like bullying (Blubber), divorce (It's Not the End of the World), masturbation (Deenie), menstruation (Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret), racism (Iggie's House), and teen sex (Forever). In fact, in 2005, four of her novels were on the list of the ten works that attract most complaints in American school libraries. She is one of the most banned children's authors in the United States (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest). Not surprisingly, today, she is a leading voice in America's censorship movement.

In spite of the criticism, Blume has enjoyed an astonishingly successful career, and her books have sold over 80 million copies and have been translated into 31 languages. And all this success came after - in the early 1960s - she would regularly receive as many as six rejection slips per week for two and one half years (8: Turning No Into Yes).

Some critics felt that Judy was simply an unsophisticated novelist for young readers, but she has won more than 90 literary awards, including the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the Library of Congress Living Legends Award (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

Like so many other amazing women, Judy has had a bumpy romantic life. She married her first husband, John Blume, the summer of her sophomore year of college. They had two children, daughter Randy and son Lawrence (the director of the Tiger Eyes movie), but John was not supportive of her writing ambition; she once described the marriage as "suffocating." They divorced in 1976. Her second marriage was to Thomas Kitchens, a physicist who moved the family to New Mexico, but the marriage was a short, unhappy one. In her words, "It was a total disaster...I cried every day" (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

Fortunately, in 1979, she met handsome former law professor and author George Cooper on a blind date set up by his ex-wife. She had given him a list with four names on it (one was a Rockefeller!), and his daughter, Amanda, urged him to date Judy. They have been happily married since 1987.

Looking forward to your comments...

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