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At 80, Judy Blume Reflects On Feminism, #MeToo And Keeping Margaret 12

Feb 12, 2018
Originally published on February 13, 2018 8:19 am

When author Judy Blume first broached topics like puberty and adolescent sexuality in her writing, it was long before those questions could be asked in a quick Google search.

Yet for those who read her now, her tales of adolescence remain modern – so much so that many of her young readers are surprised to learn Blume's books aren't brand new.

"They don't know that I wrote them generations ago. They think I wrote them yesterday for them, for the most part," Blume, who turns 80 on Monday, tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

Blume's novels — from Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and Deenie to Forever and Summer Sisters — have shaped the way we talk about puberty, periods and female sexual experiences. Those story lines take on renewed relevance amid a national conversation around sexual misconduct. Blume, who donned a pink hat at last year's Women's March, says she is an active feminist — though she sees a generational shift in some of the conversations around #MeToo.

"That doesn't mean that women of my generation can't support the #MeToo movement," Blume says. "Where we may differ is, 'Is it OK to enjoy the art of someone who we now know may have been abusive to women?' To me, the answer is yes, I can. And I don't want museums to take away art because we now know that that artist from a different era may have been abusive to women."

And Woody Allen movies? Martin asks. "Where I stand right now, I will continue to see Woody Allen movies because I'm very interested in Woody Allen the filmmaker."


Interview Highlights

On anticipating the longevity of her writing

I remember when I was newly writing and people were interested in my work. Someone once said to me, "Yes, but will kids read these books in 20 years?" And to me at the time that was like such a joke – 20 years? Are you kidding me? Who cares? Let them read them and enjoy them now.

On watching her characters grow up

I don't want to rewrite anything. My characters are who they are. For years, people have written and asked me to let Margaret go through menopause. And it's like, "Hey guys! Margaret is 12 and she is going to stay 12. That's who she is." No, I don't want to rewrite any of them.

On shelving writing, for now

I get up every day now and I say, "Thank you, thank you! I don't have to write today." I can go to my bookstore. Writing is hard and intense. 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.

Chloee Weiner is an intern at Morning Edition.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Judy Blume has affected generations of women and young girls because of her writing about female sexuality. Her books include, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," and, "Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing." Blume has said everybody has an age that defines them for life. For her, that age is 12, even though today is her 80th birthday. Just a note - when I talked with Judy Blume, our conversation centered around some sexual themes.

JUDY BLUME: I remember when I was, you know, newly writing and people were interested in my work, and someone once said to me, yes, but will kids read these books in 20 years? And to me at the time, that was, like, such a joke. Twenty years? Are you kidding me? Who cares, right? Let them read them and enjoy them now.

MARTIN: Your characters in the early years, in the '70s, were these young women who talked openly about their sexuality. They talked about masturbation. They talked about losing their virginity. These are subjects that are still not talked about openly. And your books are still banned in many school districts and libraries. Why do you think so little has changed when it comes to talking openly about female sexuality?

BLUME: Well, I think a lot has changed, but it's hard for parents to talk, especially about masturbation. (Laughter) I mean, they just cannot get over masturbation or seem to be able to talk to their kids about it.

MARTIN: What are you making of the Me Too movement? I mean, do you think it capable of broadening out beyond the issue of sexual harassment to break other barriers about women's sexuality more broadly?

BLUME: You know, I have a young friend in her late 20s, and I talk to her a lot about this and what it means to be a feminist.

MARTIN: Do you notice a generational shift between how young millennial women perceive this and women of your generation?

BLUME: Well, yes, of course. There is that. But that doesn't mean that women of my generation can't support, you know, the Me Too movement. Where we may differ is, is it OK to enjoy the art of someone who we now know may have been abusive to women? To me, the answer is yes, I can. And I don't want museums to take away art because we now know that that artist, you know, from a different era may have been abusive to women.

MARTIN: Or Woody Allen?

BLUME: Woody Allen is a whole different case. Where I stand right now, I will continue to see Woody Allen movies.

MARTIN: Is there a particular book of yours or a particular character that you would enjoy rewriting within the context of the Me Too movement?

BLUME: No. I don't want to rewrite any.

(LAUGHTER)

BLUME: No, no. They are - my characters are who they are. I mean, you know, for years people have written and asked me to let Margaret go through menopause. And it's like, hey, guys, Margaret is 12, and she's going to stay 12. That's who she is. No, I don't want to rewrite any of them. You know, writing is hard and intense. And now that I'm 80, I don't want to lock myself up for another five years.

MARTIN: Judy Blume, it has been a real pleasure. Happy birthday to you, and thanks so much for talking with us.

BLUME: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.