Judy Blume Is Not About To Back Down

Of course leave it to Judy Blume to find the perfect word for a response, with that word leaving no doubt of her intentions or opinion: “bullshit.”

Some background: Blume was interviewed by a reporter with a history of anti-trans opinions. Blume was asked a question about online harassment, using J.K. Rowling as an example, and Blume’s answer about being against harassment against women was then vaguely framed by that reporter as being against the trans community. At no point was Blume asked a direct question about the trans community, a community she’s made clear in the past she supports. Blume then issued a response that is firmly clear about her support for trans people and offers no leeway for misinterpretation, ending with, “Anything to the contrary is total bullshit.” As Blume tells us ahead, she was adamant on the use of the word “bullshit.”

It’s a big month for Blume, with two movies coming out in successive weeks. Next week will see the release of the adaptation of Are You There God? it’s Me, Margaret, in which Blume herself has a cameo. But first, this week, we get Amazon’s Judy Blume Forever, a documentary that covers her legendary career. (Which had its premiere back at Sundance, which we wrote about then.)

Before speaking to Blume and co-directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok, I immersed myself in all things Judy Blume. I saw Are You There God? it’s Me, Margaret (the embargo is not up on that one yet, but let’s just say I enjoyed it immensely) and re-read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, a book that as a child probably influenced me like no other, leading to a lifelong dream of, like Peter Hatcher, living in New York City (which I have now for 18 years) and, also like Peter, having a pet turtle – who Blume seemed genuinely delighted to meet.

On Sunday you released a statement, and I know you want it to speak for itself, but of course Judy Blume comes up with the perfect word, the word “bullshit.”

Judy Blume: Listen, there was a whole crowd around me and I said, “Do you want this to sound like me? You want this to be me? ‘Bullshit.’” And then it was my husband’s brilliant idea to attach the very recent talk that I gave with Variety. I mean, anyway, I’m done with that.

Alright, we’re done with that. I saw an interview with Davina, which she was saying how this all started with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Margaret plays such a big role in this film. So how did Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing become this documentary?

Davina Pardo: Well, I think that book is often an entry point for kids starting to read Judy Blume books. It was for my kids. We were on a road trip about five years ago, and we decided to listen to the audiobook of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. That’s how it was all started. It was sort of the power of hearing Judy Blume’s voice for the first time for me, because Judy narrates that series herself, so if you’re ever in the car and you want to finish the rest of the series…

I live in New York. I don’t have a car.

Davina Pardo: Well, with your earbuds on the subway!

Leah Wolchok: Going for a walk!

Davina Pardo: There’s something about hearing Judy’s voice, seeing my kids react to the book, and realizing how incredibly wonderful it still is, because I hadn’t read it for thirty-five, whatever, many years. And it just hit me in this really visceral way that I needed to know more about Judy Blume. I had been so tied up in the characters and the stories when I was a kid, but I didn’t know anything about Judy, and suddenly I started Googling and was trying to learn as much as I could, just out of curiosity. I didn’t have my filmmaker hat on yet. But then that filmmaker curiosity took over, and that’s the origin of this whole thing.

Here’s what I learned after writing about this movie. Judy tweeted at me about that review, which I of course retweeted. And a lot of women I know were shocked that boys read Judy Blume. In Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing you’re writing, very convincingly, in the first person as a nine-year-old boy. How?

Judy Blume: No idea how. I don’t know. I wrote Fudge early on. I wrote Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing early on. I don’t know. I hear voices. You know? I don’t see the characters. I don’t know what they look like necessarily. But the way it works is I hear voices. That’s a weird thing to say, but I do. I hear their voices, and that’s what I put down on paper. I mean, I remember right after Margaret, the next day after I sent the manuscript off not knowing if anyone would publish it. I started Then Again, Maybe I Won’t. And I thought, okay, I have been a 12-year-old girl for a couple of months, now I’d really like to be a 12-year-old boy.

Rereading that book, poor Jimmy Fargo. He got mugged three times. But what I’ve been wondering, it’s like the chicken or the egg, did Judy fully capture what it was like to be a boy at that age, or did she inform me what a boy should be like at that age? Or maybe it’s a combination of both.

Leah Wolchok: I think Judy Blume shaped everyone’s experiences and made you feel like she was right inside your head, because that is a gift as an author. She’s saying she hears voices. She heard our voices in her head. How is that possible that our heads were inside her head, and that she put our words onto the page and we were reading them back to ourselves. I mean, it’s this funny meta cycle of who… Yeah, you’re right, chicken and egg. Who’s influencing who here?

To that point, it freaked me out because I haven’t read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing in a long time. I grew up in Missouri, but I’ve always wanted to live in New York, and I never quite understood why. But rereading this, I’m like, “Oh, right, I think it’s this book.” And I have a pet turtle still. It’s literally crawling around here somewhere. And I’m just like, “Oh, right, just like Peter Hatcher.”

Leah Wolchok: Oh, my gosh. Is your turtle named Dribble? That would be really creepy!

So, I don’t think this is related, but the turtle’s name is Simon, which, I know, Margaret Simon.

Leah Wolchok: I mean, I think it might be related in some level of your consciousness that you haven’t yet come to terms with.

I think we’re figuring some stuff out here right now.

Judy Blume: How big is your turtle? Your turtle is…

Leah Wolchok: She wants to know if it’s swallowable! She wants to know if it can be eaten.

Oh no, he’s too big. But here, I found him, here’s Simon.

Judy Blume: Simon!

He’s 25 now…

Judy Blume: Oh my goodness, 25?!?! You’ve had him 25 years?

Yeah, I’ve had him since 1998. So anyway, look what you did. Simon, she’s the reason I have you, by the way.

Judy Blume: [Yells at her husband] Are you hearing this? You’re entertaining my husband.

Davina Pardo: And he comes to work with you?

Oh, I’m at home. I think I might get a letter from HR if I were doing that.

Judy Blume: I know a woman who had a companion turtle, what do you call it when you go on a plane? Emotional support. She brought her turtle. It was a turtle like Simon, big turtle.

I didn’t even know you could do that.

Judy Blume: Well, I don’t know if you can anymore.

Okay, we’re having fun, but I did want to ask one more serious thing. Judy lives in Florida and has been vocal about the book banning. The documentary gets into when something similar happened in the early 1980s. Is it worse now or then? Or similar?

Judy Blume: It’s much worse now. And it’s much scarier. Because it’s coming from government and we have legislators proposing laws that could be passed. Laws that tell kids what they can think, what they can know. I mean, the ’80s were bad enough because we had these wild groups of parents running into libraries saying, “Get this book out of here.” But then libraries and schools got their policies in place. We had less of it, it wasn’t completely gone, but we had much less. And suddenly I live in state… DeSantis. So we’ve got this governor, a madman of a governor who is trying to control everything. I mean, that’s it. I think it’s about control. That’s always scary.

Well, I’m out of time. Before we go though I did wanted to say I enjoyed your cameo in Margaret

Judy Blume: Well, thank you. I wish we had more time with you. You’re fun.

Oh, that made my year.

Leah Wolchok: Bye, Simon too.

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