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Judy Blume describes latest wave of book bans and censorship as 'disgusting' and 'fascist'


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: A new film, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" is once again shining a spotlight on Judy Blume, author of the original novel for young readers, and many other books that deal with issues of sexuality and adolescence rarely found elsewhere back when Blume was writing.

The books endeared her to generations of readers, but also brought contention, including bans, that are once again front and center.

Jeffrey Brown has part two of his report from Florida for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Judy Blume, Author, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret": I love petting my books and taking care of my books.

Jeffrey Brown: In 2023, at age 85, Judy Blume is a bookstore owner in Key West, Florida. In 1970, she was a restless suburban New Jersey wife and mother, when "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" came out, featuring an 11-year-old protagonist concerned with getting her first period and developing breasts.

The book would change Blume's life.

Judy Blume: I was a young writer, and a new -- new writer. I was young in my life experiences. I may have been almost 30 when I wrote the book, and I had two kids, I was married, and I was supposed to be grownup.

But, really, I was still growing up. When that book came out, I was so naive, I think that I didn't even know to be anxious over reviews.

Jeffrey Brown: What about...

Judy Blume: I learned that.

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.


Jeffrey Brown: But what about the subject matter? Were you anxious over putting that into the world?

Judy Blume: I was not. Maybe the publisher was.


Jeffrey Brown: Many books later and some 90 million copies sold in 32 languages, Blume and her publishers have done just fine.

Judy Blume: Did you know there was a movie?

WOMAN: I heard that it's coming out.

Judy Blume: Oh, it's so good.

Jeffrey Brown: But it began, she says, with a simple and, for so many readers, relatable feeling.

Judy Blume: I was really writing it from what I remembered, from what I knew to be true.

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.

Judy Blume: I wanted to be normal. It's not that I wanted to be big or strong or anything. I wanted to know that I was normal. That was the big thing.

Jeffrey Brown: Just normal.

Judy Blume: Normal.

Jeffrey Brown: Yes. But, I mean, just...

Judy Blume: Normal would have been good.

Jeffrey Brown: Normal would have been good, yes. Yes.


Jeffrey Brown: Her books for middle grade and young adults made normal the inner realities and confusions of her characters and her readers. She also wrote books, including the "Fudge" series, for younger children, and novels for adults, including "Wifey," about an unhappy suburban housewife, not unlike Judy Blume herself in her 30s, and 2015's "In the Unlikely Event," which she called her final book.

Maybe so, but Blume, happily married for 35 years to her third husband, George Cooper, is suddenly in the midst of a mini-renaissance, with the new film version of "Margaret," an upcoming series based on 'Forever," her novel of teenage lovers, and two more in development adapted from her novel from adults, "Summer Sisters," and the "Fudge" series.

There's also a documentary on her life, "Judy Blume Forever," that features celebrity and other women talking of the impact Blume had on their lives. Over the years, Blume has received thousands of letters from young people looking to her as someone they could confide in.

Judy Blume: "Dear Judy, I am in fifth grade and developing. It is kind of embarrassing."

Jeffrey Brown: It brought her joy and friendships, but more.

Judy Blume: It was a huge responsibility.

Jeffrey Brown: You felt that?

Judy Blume: Yes, I did, especially for all the kids who really needed to let out some kind of serious thing that was going on in their lives.

I went to a therapist, and I said: "You have to help me here, because I want to save the -- I want to save this one and this one and this one. I have to save them."

Jeffrey Brown: You felt, personally, you had to save them?

Judy Blume: I did. Yes, I did.

And she said to me: "Your job isn't to save them. Your job is to be a friend that they can trust and you're there for them. And that's what you can do."

But, also, we talked about how to try and get professional help for the ones who really needed it and to provide phone numbers and everything. It was very, very tough.

Jeffrey Brown: Of course, it wasn't all about traumas.

In 2004, I spoke to Blume after shed been honored by the National Book Foundation for her distinguished contribution to American letters.

You read a very funny letter at the book awards. Someone asked you to send, what was it, the facts of life?

Judy Blume: Oh, please send me the facts of life in number order.

Jeffrey Brown: In number order.


Judy Blume: I love that, yes. I'm still trying to figure that out. What is the number order?


Jeffrey Brown: A more serious issue Blume is still dealing with, actions to ban books by her and others. According to the free speech advocacy group PEN America, several of Blume's books were banned last fall in school districts in Texas, Pennsylvania, Utah, and here in Florida.

Her book "Forever" has been on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books since 1990. It's a battle she's fought since the 1980s and the rise of the Christian right.

Judy Blume: It was pretty bad then...

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.

Judy Blume: ... but nothing like what's going on now. There are people in power who want to control everything.

Jeffrey Brown: She is fiercely critical of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and new requirements to review books based on a state list of guidelines.

Critics say this has led to removal of books focused on gender identity, sex and race. One Florida bill would prevent the teaching of or, by some interpretations, even talking about menstruation before the sixth grade, even though studies show many girls first have their periods earlier.

On Twitter, referring to her beloved 1970s novel, Blume wrote: "Sorry, Margaret."

Your reaction to this bill?

Judy Blume: Cuckoo. Impossible. Disgusting. Fascist. I don't know. All of those words and many, many more.

And I hear there are groups around here, and they will say -- this is what I think, this is what I have read -- that we want to protect our children. We don't want them to read anything that isn't nice. We don't want them -- you know, everything should have a happy ending. We don't want -- basically, we don't want them to think. We don't want them to ask questions. You know, we just want their lives to be perfect.

Well, that's not possible, because lives are not perfect, and kids have a lot going on. And you can't control that. You cannot control that.

Jeffrey Brown: Her solution, as always, books and more books, what gave her life as a child, writer and now bookstore owner.

Judy Blume: That's cardboard Judy.

Jeffrey Brown: Cardboard Judy.

One thing Judy Blume has never liked talking about, her legacy, too highfalutin for her, perhaps. But amid this later-in-life reblooming, she had an answer.

Judy Blume: I want a stone that says "Are You There God? It's Me, Judy."


Judy Blume: But legacy, having touched lives, I guess.

Jeffrey Brown: Well, that's a pretty big thing.

Judy Blume: That's a legacy.

Jeffrey Brown: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in Key West, Florida.

Amna Nawaz: Great interview with a living legend there.

Geoff Bennett: Absolutely.

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