Judy Blume, One of the Most Banned Authors of the 20th Century
“It's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written.”
Judy Blume is one of the most banned authors of the 20th century. What does she write?
Well, children’s books. But they’re not your standard “find the giraffe”-type book.
A classic Blume children’s book explores somewhat taboo subjects like menstruation, masturbation, bullying, and divorce. Her most popular ones include, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Forever…, Deenie, and Blubber.
“I felt only that I had to write the most honest books I could. It never occurred to me, at the time, that what I was writing was controversial,” she says. “Much of it grew out of my own feelings and concerns when I was young.”
Blume was navigating these difficult subjects in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, a time before curious pre-teens could easily Google their most intimate questions. Her goal wasn’t necessarily to teach kids anything, but rather it was to make them feel normal and validate the confusing feelings they may be experience during puberty.
To this day, her books are among those most frequently banned from school libraries for the use of language, discussion of sexuality, and “lack of moral tone.”
These stories stemmed from her own curiosity. As a child, Blume felt like no one ever told her anything. Growing up in the 1950s, it was common for adults to keep secrets from children, so Blume has vivid memories of impatiently wanting to uncover those secrets. “You would walk into a room and they would just stop,” she says. “And it was like: ‘What? What? What?’”
Despite the never-ending censorship battles, her books continue to hit a nerve with every new generation of children. Over the last 50 years, Blume’s books have been translated into 32 languages and sold more than 90 million copies.
This is perhaps the biggest lesson I learned after studying the life and career of Judy Blume: Even if you’re a generally fearful person, you must be a fearless writer.
I’ll leave you with this quote from her Masterclass: “As a writer, you have to go into that little room and leave the fear outside. And get that censor off your shoulder so that you don’t self-censor. You need to write what needs to be there.”
Blume’s book “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” has been adapted into a film starring Abby Ryder Fortson and Rachel McAdams, and it comes out this Friday, April 28.
Here’s what we can learn about idea-generation, feeding your curiosity, and why the key to great writing is reading great writing.
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