Judy Blume, the author of YA classics such as Forever..., Tiger Eyes, and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, has also written many books for younger kids, including Blubber and the Fudge series—and a few for adults, too. Here are some things you might not know about the beloved author.
1. Judy Blume didn’t aspire to be a writer.
Blume—who was born Judy Sussman in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on February 12, 1938—“had no idea it was even possible to grow up to write books,” she said in an Ask Me Anything thread on Reddit. “I wanted to be a cowgirl, an actress, or a detective.” By the age of 25, as a stay-at-home wife and mother of two, she felt that something was missing from her life. “I started rhyming picture books while I was washing the dishes in the evening after dinner,” she said at a literary festival. Soon she started writing longer fiction. Her first book, The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo, was published in 1969.
2. Blume had many childhood fears.
In her youth, Blume was frightened of “dogs, swimming, and thunderstorms,” she wrote on her website. Sheila Tubman, the main character in Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, shares these fears but hides them under a layer of bravado. Blume eventually conquered her fears of dogs and swimming—but not thunderstorms: “If I’m home and there’s a big boom, I might seek refuge in my ‘thunder’ closet.”
3. As a child, Blume loved to read the Oz books.
She has fond memories of reading L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, which she “read straight through” when she was 9. The “subversive tales,” as she called them, taught her that she loved to read. “In those days I used to dream of flying,” she wrote in 1999. “I may have been small and powerless in real life, but in my imagination I was able to soar.”
4. She regrets the long title she chose for her most famous book.
Blume had a hard time thinking up a name for Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, so she used the novel’s opening line. On her website, she lamented this choice: “If I’d known then how often I was going to have to say the title, I might just have called it Margaret.”
5. The idea for Forever… came from Blume’s daughter.
Forever… is about two teenagers in love who have sex responsibly. The idea for the story came to Blume after her daughter complained that sexually active girls in 1970s YA novels always got punished. The author recalled her daughter asking, “Couldn’t there ever be a book where two nice kids do it and nobody has to die?”
6. Blume identifies with one of her characters in particular.
Out of the many characters Blume has brought to life, the protagonist of Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself is the one the author identifies with most closely: “It’s my most autobiographical book,” she said in an interview with Smithsonian magazine.
“When I was 9 and 10 I was a lot like Sally—curious, imaginative, a worrier,” Blume wrote on her website. But that’s not where the similarities end. “Some of the Yiddish expressions used by Sally’s grandmother in this book are words I learned from my own grandmother. And Sally’s family is based on my own.”
7. She’s not gifted at drawing.
The author tried—unsuccessfully—to illustrate some of her earliest stories. Even though the results were terrible, she hung onto the illustrations … but hid them in a closet. “I told my children that if they try to publish them after I die I will come back and haunt them,” the author told January magazine.
8. Blume has sold an incredible number of books.
Since the 1969 publication of her first book, The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo, more than 85 million copies (and counting) of Blume’s titles have been sold around the world—in 32 languages.
9. When her novels started getting banned in the 1980s, Blume was incredulous.
Some have taken issue with how Blume’s young adult novels dealt frankly with sex, masturbation, menstruation, death, religion, and other sensitive subjects. Initially, Blume didn’t believe that censorship could happen in the United States. “My feeling in the beginning was wait, this is America: we don’t have censorship, we have, you know, freedom to read, freedom to write, freedom of the press, we don’t do this, we don’t ban books,” she told The Guardian in 2014. “But then they did.”
10. Blume’s books have been challenged—a lot.
The American Library Association included five of her novels for teens and tweens on their list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990 to 1999: Forever..., Blubber, Deenie, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, and Tiger Eyes. All but Deenie popped up again on the ALA’s 2000 to 2009 list. The ALA also identified Blume as one of the most frequently challenged authors of the 21st century, landing on their lists for 2001 through 2006, and again for 2010.
11. Meeting Blume can be an emotional experience for fans of her work.
Longtime fans often burst into tears when they meet Blume in real life. “It’s because of what I represent,” she reassures them. “I’m your childhood.”
12. The author has some unexpected fans.
One ardent fan is radio host Charlamagne tha God. He said the YA author is the person he’d most like to interview, gushing, “I’m a huge, huge, Judy Blume fan and I grew up on her books. My mom told me when I was younger to read things that didn’t pertain to me, and Judy was who I used to go to [in those situations]. She’s the only person I really want to talk to—on any platform.” Comedian Chelsea Handler is another big fan—going so far as to name her 2008 essay collection Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.
13. Blume is a “living legend.”
In 2000, Judy Blume was named a Library of Congress Living Legend for her creative contributions to American life.
14. She can’t explain the act of writing.
“I’ve no idea how writing works,” she confessed in an Ask Me Anything Reddit thread. “I think I’m just an instinctual writer. It comes and I go with it.”
15. Blume inspired a song.
Amanda Palmer’s song “Judy Blume” name-drops some of the author’s most beloved characters—including Margaret, Deenie, and Tony—and includes lyrics such as “I don’t remember the details of 7th grade / All I remember is lying and being afraid / But I won’t forget Katherine and Michael going all the way.” In an essay, Palmer praised Blume as “the silent architect of my pre-adolescent belief system” and called the author “one of the women who stealthily handed my generation a no-bullshit road map to a revolution of truth.”
16. Blume is done writing books.
The author feels ready to leave writing novels behind. “Writing is hard and intense,” she told NPR. “The last novel, In the Unlikely Event, took me five years research and writing. Now that I’m 80 I don’t want to lock myself up for another five years.” She and her third husband (they’ve been married since 1987) now run a bookstore in Florida.