On Monday night, Books & Books and Temple Judea hosted a discussion between beloved YA writer Judy Blume and WLRN's editorial director and arts reporter Alicia Zuckerman. There aren’t too many authors that can draw a crowd of die-hard, life-long readers, but Blume—whose books include the childhood classic, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, is one of them. Many of the (mostly) women proclaimed their love of her books and described how they had passed the Blume torch on to their own children.
Blume was all smiles and answered questions from the audience with aplomb. She spoke of things from her youth like Volupte compacts, keeping cashmere sweaters in bags in the fridge, and her nana. (Blume's grandmother was a Miami Beach resident, and Blume spent a few years of her childhood living in Miami with her.)
When discussing her characters, Blume spoke of them as if they were old friends. “I have to get to know my characters,” Blume said. “I have to really know them and fall in love with them, otherwise what’s the point? And if I don’t like them, I have to kill them.”
The discussion focused mostly on her new book, In the Unlikely Event, her first adult novel in 17 years. Set in the 1950s, the story is shaped by a series of real-life plane crashes that occurred in Blume's hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey.
“In a million years I never would have thought about writing about the '50s,” Blume said. “It was so bland. But I’m of an age where looking back at the '50s has suddenly become interesting to me. No adult ever talked to us in school or at home about these tragedies, so we were left to make it up on our own.”
In writing the book, she researched the events and passengers who perished on board and used actual articles form now-defunct newspapers for historical reference. She even went back to the sites of the crashes with reporters.
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“It was still very, very hard for me to believe that it was all a coincidence,” said Blume. “Like all of my books [In the Unlikely Event] is about family and friends and falling in love, betrayal, and falling out of love. It’s about everything that happens in life, but with this added craziness.”
Blume also touched on her childhood and the writing process. She grew up reading all the time and always had stories in her head. Some of her influencers were John Updike, Phillip Roth, Saul Bellow, and Joyce Carol Oates. As a child she was anxious and suffered from eczema, but once she started writing in her twenties, she found all of that disappeared.
“Everyone wants to know how the writing process works,” said Blume. “I don’t really know, but I’ve come to trust it. When I go into that little room and I write, I’m courageous. I’m fearless in a way I never was in my life.”