Happy Birthday, Judy!

Judy Blume turns 70 next week, and The Guardian profiles the author for the occasion. “I’d imagined her as a busty Jewish mamma, dishing out advice in gigantic, homely portions,” writes Melissa Whitworth. “But in person she’s delicate and small, with the body of a ballet dancer. She’s wearing a loose-fitting turquoise shirt and black capri pants. Her hair is in a short, girlish bob. With her high cheekbones and wide, easy smile she could be mistaken for Jessica Lange.”

When I was a kid, I had some interesting ideas about what some of my favorite authors looked like. But I never had any illusions about Judy Blume. On the back of my 1981 edition of Tiger Eyes (a hand-me-down from a favorite babysitter) was a black and white photo of the beaming author, with what I assume is the Sante Fe desert to her back. The portrait was sort of an odd juxtaposition with the painting on the book’s cover, which featured a sallow-cheeked girl, looking seriously haunted.

I read that amazing, unsettling book about a thousand times. Actually, I don’t think I read any of Judy Blume’s books just once. I studied the tense friendships in Just As Long As We’re Together until the yellow paperback fell apart. Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, with its paranoia and Holocaust ghosts, spooked me deliciously. I read and re-read Deenie and Iggy’s House under my covers with a flashlight. Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret may be considered Blume’s ultimate classic, but it didn’t have the same impact on me as the others. It featured characters memorably chanting, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust,” which sure resonated with me as a kid, but all the stuff about menstruation didn’t shock me as much as it might have. By that point I’d already learned about periods from some other novel that I was too young to really understand.

I pored over the famous sex scenes in Forever; spent tent cents on a copy of Wifey, one of Blume’s “adult” novels, at a garage sale, but never got around to reading it: my well-meaning mother thought it was a little too advanced for a ten-year-old. I was lucky that there were plenty of other steamily intriguing paperbacks in the swivel rack at our local library. Thanks to Norma Klein, there were books even more unabashed in their sexuality than Blume’s, with titles like Beginner’s Love, Love Is One of the Choices and It’s Okay If You Don’t Love Me. I didn’t know at the time that Klein had died in 1989 at the age of 50, after a brief and somewhat mysterious illness. And I’m not sure how conscious I was that both of these masters of Young Adult fiction were Jewish.

Blume is maybe best known — and people are most grateful to her for — her frank talk about sex, which many of us read before we knew quite what we were reading. In that spirit, Rachel Kramer Bussell recently interviewed Rachel Shukert, whose memoir Have You No Shame? And Other Regrettable Stories comes out in April. They talk about a piece Shukert wrote for Heeb about Jewish women and blowjobs, which can now be found in Best Sex Writing 2008, edited by the ever-prolific Bussell. Shukert reflects, “I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that if you eat like a pig, that must mean you’re great in bed, but I think there’s some kind of link. I think it’s appetite, and more than that, it’s a kind self-determination that Jewish women have, which I think we actually acquired from never being part of high society, from never really being seen by men as these kind of dainty flowers.” The whole thing is worth a read.
–Eryn Loeb

One comment on “Happy Birthday, Judy!

  1. Beth Fehlbaum on

    I loved Judy Blume, too! Happy Birthday, Ms. Blume! I owe a debt of gratitude to Judy Blume. My debut novel, Courage in Patience, goes on sale this month, and it releases in September. In part because of Judy Blume, I knew that the stories that were inside me could find an audience. Here’s a synopsis of my book. I think Judy would be proud. 🙂

    Ashley Nicole Asher’s life changes forever on the night her mother, Cheryl, meets Charlie Baker. Within a year of her mother’s marriage to Charlie, typical eight-year-old Ashley’s life becomes a nightmare of sexual abuse and emotional neglect. Bundling her body in blankets and sleeping in her closet to try to avoid Charlie’s nighttime assaults, she is driven by rage at age 14 to to tell her mother, in spite of the threats Charlie has used to keep Ashley silent. Believing that telling will make Charlie go away, instead it reveals to Ashley where she lies on her mother’s list of priorities.
    “We’re just going to move on now,” Cheryl tells Ashley. “Go to your room.” Ashley’s psyche splinters into shards of glass, and she desperately tries to figure a way out, while at the same time battling numbness and an inability to remember what happened when she blacked out after Charlie tackled her. She knew that when she awoke her clothes were disheveled and the lower-half of her body was covered in bright red blood– but she has only a blank spot in the “video” of her memory.
    When Ashley’s friend, Lisa, sees a note from Cheryl telling Ashley that Charlie would never “do those things to her,” and insisting that she apologize for accusing him of molesting her, Lisa forces dazed Ashley to make an outcry to her teacher, Mrs. Chapman.
    By the end of the day, Ashley’s father, David, who has not seen Ashley since she was three months old, is standing in the offices of Child and Family Services. He brings her home to the small East Texas town of Patience, where he lives with his wife, Beverly, their son, Ben, and works with his brother, Frank. Its neighboring town, Six Shooter City, is so quirky, it’s practically on the cusp of an alternate universe; a trip to the Wal-Mart reveals to visitors that “there’s either something in the water..or family trees around here don’t fork.”
    Through the summer school English class/ Quest for Truth taught by Beverly, an “outside-the-box” high school English teacher whose passion for teaching comes second only to her insistence upon authenticity, Ashley comes to know Roxanne Blake, a girl scarred outwardly by a horrific auto crash and inwardly by the belief that she is “Dr. Frankenstein’s little experiment”;
    Wilbur “Dub” White, a fast-talking smart mouth whose stepfather is a white supremacist who nearly kills a man while Dub watches from the shadows, forcing Dub to realize that he cannot live with the person that he is, any longer;
    Zaquoiah “Z.Z.” Freeman, one of the few African-Americans in Patience, whose targeted-for-extinction family inherited the estate of one of Patience’s founding families and has been given the charge to “turn this godforsaken town on its head”;
    Hector “Junior” Alvarez, a father at sixteen whose own father was killed in prison, who works two jobs and is fueled by the determination to “do it right” for his son, “3”, and his girlfriend, Moreyma;
    T.W. Griffin, whose football-coach father expects him to be Number One at everything, and whose mother naively believes that he is too young to think about sex; and
    Kevin Cooper, a not-so-bright football player with a heart of gold, whose mother, Trini, a reporter for the local paper, is instrumental in exposing the ugliness that is censorship.
    Every person in the class is confronted with a challenge that they must face head-on. The choices they make will not be easy—but they will be life-altering. With the exception of her mother and step-father, Ashley is surrounded by people who overcome their fear to embrace authenticity and truth– the only way to freedom. But will Ashley have the inner-fortitude to survive the journey to recovery and the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Will Ashley find her voice, speak up for herself, and break the bondage of her abusive past?
    Realizing “she’s gonna need a lot more than we have,” David and Bev enlist the help of Scott “Dr. Matt” Matthews, an experienced, slightly unconventional therapist who insists that Ashley can and must come out hiding in the closet in her mind.
    The Chris Crutcher novel, Ironman, is taught by Beverly Asher in the summer school class. When T.W.’s overbearing parents read the book, they decide that the book should be censored, and they involve the pastor of Patience’s largest, most conservative church to lead the fight through the Purify Patience organization. Its mission is to cleanse Patience of Profanity, Promiscuity, and Parent-Bashing Pedagogy—all complaints the group has about the novel, Ironman. Its hidden agenda, however, is to return Patience to a time when “Patience was 100% white”, “women knew their place”,”everyone had plenty of money”, and “Christian values were taught in school.”
    The censoring, pseudo-Christian, white-supremacist, misogynist organization is exposed for what it is in a courageous move by one of its own (well..his mother threatens to twist his ear off if he doesn’t speak up), isolating the pastor and causing most of his “flock” to deny they ever knew him. National and world press attention shine speculation on the dirty little secrets hidden in Patience, and its inhabitants are forced to examine their own values and beliefs.
    Alone in the dark, Ashley must face her worst fears in a pivotal scene between her, Charlie, and her mother. Through this confrontation, Ashley at last finds the strength to advocate for her own right to exist in a world that is free of abuse. She, too, has found Courage in Patience.

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