Judy Blume on feminine hygiene product accuracy, book bans, and all the Hollywood love
Judy Blume is a national treasure — and April is the perfect time to celebrate her.
The beloved author of classics like Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret and Forever is in the midst of a career renaissance at the age of 85 thanks to back-to-back film projects. Blume is the subject of the documentary Judy Blume Forever, which is now available on Prime Video, and Margaret is finally getting its big-screen adaptation when it hits theaters on April 28.
While Judy Blume Forever is a biographical account of Blume's life and career, including interviews with many of her readers, Margaret is the Judy Blume adaptation her fans have been waiting for their entire lives. Blume has been notoriously choosy when it comes to Hollywood adaptations (and rightfully so), but she was convinced she'd found the right team after seeing writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig's Edge of Seventeen.
Judy Blume Forever and Margaret are being released only a week apart, a strange bit of kismet for Blume who has said that 2015's In the Unlikely Event will be her last novel. In recent years, Blume has turned from writing to managing a bookshop she owns in her hometown of Key West, Fla.
But she's currently in the maelstrom of a press tour for both films, and EW caught up with her to get her thoughts on having two projects premiere so close together, why it was finally time to bring Margaret to the screen, what she insisted the filmmakers get right, and what she thinks about recent, renewed efforts to ban her books.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The documentary Forever Judy Blume and Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret are debuting within a week of each other. Was there some intentional overlap in saying yes to these and the release pattern? Or did it just work out this way?
JUDY BLUME: It just worked out this way. COVID did a job on us too. We would've shot Margaret a year earlier but for COVID.
In the '70s and '80s, you were constantly being asked to do interviews when all of your major books were coming out. Is it strange to be in this swirl of media attention again at the age of 85?
Well, I had sworn off it after my last book. I did the book tour of a lifetime for In the Unlikely Event six or seven years ago. That was a huge book tour, took me to the U.K. and all around. I said, "This is it. This is my last one. I'm retiring from this. I'm never doing TV again. I'm not doing any more interviews." And here I am.
There actually have not been all that many feature film adaptations of your work, and you famously held very tightly to the rights for Margaret. Why haven't there been more adaptations? Has that been your choice?
Yes. I think for a long time the feeling in L.A. was, "Don't bother because she's not going to sell any of her work." Then, the agents changed. I had a new agent and I said, "I love movies, I would love to do something, but Margaret's off the table." So, here we are with Margaret and I'm so, so happy that we did it.
Well, what changed? What made this the right time?
It was definitely the right team for it. That's what it was more than the time. You can't get a better team than Kelly Fremon Craig and James L. Brooks working together. I saw a movie that they did, [The Edge of Seventeen], and I loved that movie. Kelly came with credentials. I don't think anyone else had ever come to me with that kind of credential.
You've related a few times how you had to correct Kelly and the girls on the proper way to do "We must, we must, we must increase our bust."
Right. I had to show them. Kelly had it wrong. And she said, "But that's the way I did it." And I realized, you know, "How did kids know?" I don't know. But I showed them the way we did it.
Were there any other very specific things you were particular about or gave them guidance on?
Well, so in the book, the kids say that they're only going to use Teenage Softies, which is [a brand of] what we used to call a sanitary pad. In the movie, I happened to be there when they were shooting the scene, when the two girls go in to get the sanitary products off the shelf and they pick up the pads. I forget whatever one it was, but it was one of the regular ones. And I freaked out. I told somebody later that my fans were going to be very, very upset that Teenage Softies weren't in it. Kelly was so sweet and adorable and wonderful, and she said, 'Oh my God, I forgot. But we're going to get that. It's going to be in there.' And they fixed it in post and now they buy their Teenage Softies. That was funny.
You talk in the documentary a lot about how personal this writing was for you. How much do you feel Abby Ryder Fortson (Margaret) or Rachel McAdams (Barbara) or any of the other cast captures some element of yourself that you put into the book?
Oh my God, they are the dream cast. It couldn't get any better. The way Kelly wrote it is so that you're not meeting all the adult characters from the point of view of only a 12-year-old child, which is the book, because it's in first person. How much does she know about the adults in her life? Here in the movie, Kelly has given Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie, who play the parents, and Kathy Bates, who plays grandma, she's made them into real people, and then they have taken that and run with it. I love the kids, of course. But I think the adults are wonderful, brilliant, and fabulous.
Something else that struck me is how much it pulls forward this thread of anti-Semitism with Margaret's grandparents. Was that something Kelly came to the table with at the beginning?
That is in the book, but most people who read it as kids and come back to me as adults say, "You know, I never noticed that when I was reading it when I was a kid. I was reading all that stuff that I was interested in about puberty and friends, and I wasn't really noticing that." Which is good, I think, because it's something that you can come back to as an adult and read it, and it's different than what you thought.
Do you see the Margaret film and the documentary as bookends in any sense?
I can understand how somebody might think that. For me, it wasn't like that. One is something that came from my imagination and one is my life. It's easier to watch the one from the imagination; the one that is my life in 90 minutes is very hard. They did a terrific job. Their gentleness with the kids who wanted to speak up, who are now adults. That was very tough stuff. And they handled it beautifully.
As the documentary shows, you've always had this very close connection with your readers, but is it overwhelming to have these two things coming out at the same time and this renewed outpouring of love and interest in you?
Yes. I'm overwhelmed in the way I was when I was getting all that mail. How can I handle it? How can I help? There's only so much I can do. What can I do? This is overwhelming too. It's lovely. But emotionally, it is an overwhelming time for me.
Do you still write letters back to any fans that write?
Letters are different now. Kids aren't taking pencil to paper and licking an envelope and putting a stamp on it and dropping it in a mailbox. It's done electronically. You don't get the same depth of feeling. If I get a really heartfelt letter, I do respond.
You said you've written your last novel, but do you still want to write anything shorter — a short story, essay, etc.?
I could never write a short story. [Laughs] I haven't been any good at that. No, I don't. For a long time, I thought about a mini biography. My life from one to 12. I thought about that because I wanted to write about all the relatives. But now I have a real biographer who is writing a long book about my life and my work. He's very good. And I have told him I'm going to write all of that out and he can put it in there. But somehow I'm going to get that out into the world.
Is there another one of your books that you'd really like to see adapted if the right team were to come along?
Absolutely. Summer Sisters is being developed by Universal. The writer hasn't been selected yet, but I hope that writer falls from the sky the way Kelly did. I know I'll never have another experience like that, but it would be a very happy thing for me to have another good experience. And I've always wanted to see Summer Sisters done.
Throughout your career, you've dealt with the issue of banning books and been very outspoken about it. It's once again a hot-button issue. What is the best way to combat book banning?
Always speaking out. Never, never remain complacent. For most people who want to know, "How can I help, what can I do?," there are organizations that are really doing an excellent job in trying to protect our intellectual freedom and our children's right to know and to read and to learn. I would try to join forces with one of them. If it's only a small check in the mail, that's helpful. But whatever you can do and whatever you can do in your own community, so that the would-be banners know, "We can't just run over these people." The trouble today is it's coming from government. It's not just a group. And what can we do about that? Well, we can vote them out. That's what we have to try to do.
Having experienced this with your own books, why do you think that these books, and particularly what kids are reading, are such a target for people?
They are people who want to control everything. They want to erase history. Don't ask me why they're that way. It's that total control that they would like to have over their children's lives. It's absolute fear — that if they don't have this control, something bad is going to happen.
With Margaret, you ask a lot of big questions, but with the title, you ask the biggest one, which is, 'Are you there, God?' For you, did God ever answer?
Well, we had regular discussions, so I don't know that he or she or whoever it was, told me what to do. I don't think it was that kind of situation. It wasn't me saying, "What do I do now?" It was more asking for help in keeping my father safe and well while I was separated from him.
What is one thing you wish every girl knew?
I wish for every girl that her questions be answered honestly, and to the point, and that she wouldn't be afraid to ask them.
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