After 750 fans gave Judy Blume a standing ovation before she even said a word on stage, an emotional Jennifer Weiner kicked off an hour-long Q&A with Blume during BookCon by telling her that written in “big, huge letters at the top of my notes, it says, ‘don’t cry.’ And I’m going to cry.” Weiner, who described herself as still being a sobbing 12-year-old girl inside her head sometimes, lauded Blume as being “like the coolest babysitter you ever had,” to the crowd, who ranged from teenage girls to middle-aged women, with a sprinkling of men. Blume “sits you down and tells you how it is,” Weiner explained, and has helped teenagers for more than 45 years make sense of the world and themselves as their minds and bodies change during puberty.
And of course, Weiner being Weiner, who is known for writing novels about women who revel in their sexuality, the conversation quickly turned to a discussion about sex. Weiner noted that Blume broke new ground writing about teenagers making out and having sex with one another, and that the “world doesn’t end,” because teens are reading about fictional teens expressing their sexual urges. “I think sex is good,” Blume said, with the caveat that her generation “didn’t go all the way” but they definitely came close to it.
The conversation continued for a while in this raunchy vein, as the two authors discussed sex in fact and in fiction. Blume noted that “every now and then I get a good sex scene going,” and advised Weiner that when her 12-year-old daughter started asking questions about the sex scenes in her novels, “Tell [her], ‘Mommy made it all up,’ ” to which Weiner responded, “That’s good, because when my book is called Good in Bed, I’m gonna to get some questions!”
Asked about which of her characters were her favorites, Blume at first responded that they were characters in her latest novel, as she’d been living with them for the last five years. In the Unlikely Event, a novel written for adults, was inspired by three plane crashes during her teen years in her N.J. hometown not far from Newark Airport. It was a story that Blume described as “deep inside” of her and one that she had not told before.
But, Blume said, if she “was forced to choose” it’d be Margaret in Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. She however identifies most with Sally J. Freeman, although there are bits of herself in several of her characters, she said.
Throughout the conversation, Blume was as honest and open as one would expect from someone who has written the kinds of books she’s written for more than four decades. She disclosed that, in the beginning of her career, authors weren’t expected to “be adorable and charming,” and that, although she enjoys social media, she understands its dangers. “It’s dangerous because of the expectations,” she said, and an ill-advised Twitter comment can have serious ramifications on a public figure.
On a professional level, though, Blume says that she is most creative with a pencil in her hand rather than sitting in front of a computer, and that she cannot read fiction when she is writing her own novels, as she becomes too distracted by other writers’ characters.
Blume, whose books have topped banned books lists for years, also gave some indication of why she is so passionate when it comes to the freedom to read and censorship: her parents, she said, gave her “the greatest gift,” encouraging her to read. “Books weren’t something to be afraid of or pulled out of a child’s hands,” she said.
While there were plenty of laughs during the spirited back-and-forth between Weiner and Blume, the session became more intense after being opened to questions from audience members. About a half dozen young women asked Blume questions, with one disclosing she’d grown up in an Orthodox family and that Blume’s books had provided her with the only sex education she received as a teen. Another young woman simply said, “Thank you,” and walked away.
Blume herself provided some drama at the end of the hour when she disclosed that one of her lifelong regrets was that as a high school student, she knew that African-American girls were being consciously prevented from joining an advanced glee club she belonged to and she said nothing at the time. At her 40th high school reunion, she said, she stood up and confessed that she had once seen the glee club teacher’s list of girls auditioning, and that there was a “C” next to the name of each African-American girl’s name. “I felt so guilty,” she said, “Why didn’t anyone say anything?” It’s a story she hasn’t talked about publicly or written about in her fiction, although she considered including it in In the Unlikely Event. But it didn’t fit the narrative, so she took it out.
“And now I am telling you,” she said, her voice choked with emotion in front of a rapt audience who hung onto her every word.