Thursday, December 13, 2007

Biography of Judy Blume

"When I was growing up, I dreamed about becoming a cowgirl, a detective, a spy, a great actress or a ballerina. Not a dentist, like my father, or a homemaker, like my mother---certainly not a writer, although I always loved to read. I didn't know anything about writers. It never occurred to me that they were regular people and that I could grow up to become one, even though I loved to make up stories inside my head."

Today Judy Blume remains one of the most prolific authors of children's books in America. Her books have sold over 75 million copies and translated into twenty different languages. To her writing credit, she holds in excess of ninety awards including the prestigious Margaret A. Edwards award for Lifetime Achievement. It is, perhaps, for this reason, that people find it odd to hear Judy Blume speak of growing up to become a ballerina, and that of all things in her life, becoming a writer, was the ultimate surprise.

Born an initially shy Aquarius with a love for the color purple, Judy Blume grew up in Elizabeth town, New Jersey. As a child, Judy thought nothing of creating intricate characters and stories in her head. She confesses, however, that until the time is uniquely right, she does not introduce a single character or plot line to the page.

My characters live inside my head for a long time before I actually start to write a book about them. Then, they become so real to me I talk about them at the dinner table as if they are real. Some people consider this weird. But my family understands."

Judy went on to attend New York University. It was there that Judy met her first husband John M. Blume, and the two were married in 1959 while Judy was in her junior year of college. She graduated from New York University in 1961 with a B.S. in Education and the couple celebrated with the arrival of their first child, their daughter, Randy. The couple went on to have a son, Lawrence, before divorcing in 1975. Judy's second marraige to Thomas Kitchen a year later also resulted in divorce in 1978. She did not remarry again until 1987, when she met non-fiction writer George Cooper. The couple have three children between them, to include a step-daughter, Amanda.

It was during the years her children were old enough to attend pre-school that Judy began her early attempts at writing, and subsequently publishing. In an effort to ease her frustrations and fears over a rejection period of two years, Judy enrolled in writing courses at New York University. It was during this time, a period stretching over the course of two semesters, that Judy seemed to find her niche. She had some publishing success with magazines, wrote the early drafts of a book that would be known as Iggie's House, and at the age of twenty seven, published her first book: The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo. This marked the beginning of a highly successful career in writing, leading to future publications of over 21 books, an adoringly diverse fan base and a lifetime in the limelight.

To critics and readers alike, a key, contributing attribute that ensures Judy Blume's career longevity, has always been her remarkable authenticity. Whether through the voice of a main character experiencing puberty or referring to her own motivations to begin writing at twenty seven----the result has always been a candid, uncensored snapshot, of her thoughts and emotions. One such example can be seen in this excerpt of an interview with Arts Correspondent Jeffrey Brown in 2004, where Judy's powerful authenticity to say what many experience and few voice, appeared to leave him a bit surprised.

Judy: The voice in my head was the voice of a child, and the voice that came out spontaneously on paper was the voice of a child. And also I think, because at 27, when I really started to write, I felt that life was over for me. I had made my...

Jeffrey Brown: Over for you?

Judy: Over. I had made my choices. I married very young. I had my children, as we did then. And this was going to be it. I didn't know that there were any opportunities around the corner. You know, I mean, it...

Jeffrey Brown: You mean, you felt trapped.

Judy: Well, yes, I guess I did feel trapped. But I thought...looking back, that was the life that interested me, the child that I was when it seemed that everything was still possible, everything was new and exciting, everything was a first.

Jeffrey Brown: And then writing became a way to a new life?

Judy: It certainly did. What I remember when I started to write was how I couldn't wait to get up in the morning to get to my characters. And I just went from book to book to book because gave me my life, again. It gave me my inner life, that connection that I had lost.

It is this connection to children, and to those issues for which she lends a voice, for which she has received widespread praise, and the merciless scrutiny of many a critic. She has been the target of many censorship efforts, aimed largely at restricting child access to books such as: Forever and Are you there God? It's Me Margaret, in which the characters deal with issues related to both puberty and sexuality.

Mark Oppenheimer, in his article for the NY Times Book Review, states his belief that the issues Blume explores in her books, can perhaps hit too close to home in the classroom, and therefore, are preferably avoided altogether. In his article, he recounts his own childhood reading experiences.

"Usually, in the world of children's literature, the same books are successful with readers, teachers and critics: think of E. B. White, Madeleine L'Engle, E. L. Konigsberg or Scott O'Dell. The committees that select the winners of the Newbery Medals are composed of librarians. Their awards are trusted, prompting teachers to assign the books to their fifth graders, who obligingly read and like them. From fourth through sixth grades, I was assigned O'Dell's ''Island of the Blue Dolphins'' three times and was made to read each volume of L'Engle's ''Time'' trilogy. No teacher ever assigned Judy Blume. "

Despite such obstacles, however, Judy Blume has managed to successfully stand the test of time. Today she lends a voice to the National Coalition Against Censorship, working to protect intellectual freedom. The span of Judy Blume's career has honored her with the title(s) of writer, activist, wife, mother, grandmother and inspiration to children everywhere.

"Dear Judy,

My mom never talks about the things young girls think most about. She doesn't know how I feel. I don't know where I stand in the world. I don't know who I am. That's why I read, to find myself." Letter from Elizabeth/Reader/Age 13

Judy Blume: "...And Elizabeth is the reason that I keep writing."

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