The Famed YA Author You Should Have On Your Radar

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It's not just anyone who can sit alone at a keyboard for days (or months, sometimes years) at a time, making up a story out of nothing. Some famous authors truly are strange people. By all accounts, though, Judy Blume is genuinely nice and approachable. She's the type of writer who enjoys answering letters from readers, and who reacts kindly when fans become overwrought with emotion upon meeting her, which happens surprisingly often (per The New York Times).

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The octogenarian has won countless awards — including the American Academy of Arts and Letters E.B. White Award — during her long career, which spans almost half a century. According to The Guardian, more than 82 million copies of Blume's books have been sold around the world. Most famous are her titles for teens and tweens, such as "Forever," "Tiger Eyes," and "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" — as Oprah Daily noted — however, she has also penned books for younger kids, including "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" and "Superfudge," along with four novels for adults: "Wifey," "Smart Women," "Summer Sisters," and "In the Unlikely Event."

Over the years, much controversy — and subsequent media attention — has surrounded the content of her novels for young adults.

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Judy Blume's YA novels deal honestly with teens' concerns

In her YA novels, Judy Blume regularly depicts awkward, controversial, or just downright embarrassing topics that teens and tweens desperately want to know more about: puberty, menstruation, masturbation, sex, birth control, depression, suicide, divorce, religion, social ostracism. The frank tone of Blume's writing avoids any whiff of judgment or preachiness — both of which are all too common in other authors' writing for young people.

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On her official website, Blume explained the inspiration for "Forever," her 1975 YA novel about two teenagers who act responsibly about having sex: "My daughter Randy asked for a story about two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die. She had read several novels about teenagers in love. If they had sex the girl was always punished — an unplanned pregnancy, a hasty trip to a relative in another state, a grisly abortion . . . sometimes even death. Lies. Secrets. At least one life ruined."

Megan McCafferty's essay in the anthology "Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume" praised "Forever" as revolutionary: "Here was a seventeen-year-old female narrator who knew her desires were natural and didn't deny them to herself or her boyfriend."

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Teenagers adored Blume's relatable characters and storylines. But conservative adults? Not so much.

Her books have been banned — a lot

Judy Blume's first YA novels hit shelves in the 1970s, a decade before the censorship of kids' books became widespread. "When we elected Ronald Reagan and the conservatives decided that they would decide not just what their children would read but what all children would read, it went crazy," she told The Guardian.

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At first, she was puzzled when her books started getting challenged and then banned from some schools and libraries. "My feeling in the beginning was wait, this is America: we don't have censorship, we have, you know, freedom to read, freedom to write, freedom of the press, we don't do this, we don't ban books. But then they did."

Five of Blume's works appear on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990 to 1999 (alongside works by the likes of Maya Angelou and Stephen King): "Forever" (No. 7), "Blubber" (No. 30), "Deenie" (No. 42), "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" (No. 60), and "Tiger Eyes" (No. 89).

Four of these titles reappear on the ALA's list for 2000 to 2009: "Forever" (No. 16), "Blubber" (No. 43), "Tiger Eyes" (No. 87), and "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" (No. 99). Blume herself pops up seven times on the ALA's list of the most frequently challenged authors of the 21st century.

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Judy Blume felt driven to fight back against censorship

When Judy Blume's books first started getting attacked and banned, she was flooded with "anger, sadness, and a sense of isolation," she told Smithsonian Magazine. After she discovered the National Coalition Against Censorship and started working with them to promote intellectual freedom, it changed both her outlook and her life. "I realized I wasn't alone — which is funny, because that's what my readers often say to me," she explained to Smithsonian Magazine.

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When Glamour honored Blume with a Woman of the Year Award in 2004, the magazine praised her work with the NCAC. "Did I plan to become an activist?" she said while accepting the award. "No, but things happen. You either take action or you don't. Standing up and speaking out, you find out, makes you feel a lot better than doing nothing."

In a 1999 essay defending children's right to read J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, Blume wrote that "some parents believe they have the right to demand immediate removal of any book for any reason from school or classroom libraries. The list of gifted teachers and librarians who find their jobs in jeopardy for defending their students' right to read, to imagine, to question, grows every year."

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PEN America reports that book bans have increased dramatically in the United States. Fighting back against censorship is more important now than ever before.

The author lacked feminist role models

Like many women who came of age in the 1950s, Judy Blume got married young and quickly had two children. But, she revealed in a 1997 interview with Bust (via Refinery29), "I didn't want to be in the kitchen. I wanted to be the hero, the cowgirl, the detective."

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She explained, "The women's movement was very late coming to suburban New Jersey. I didn't know anyone who worked, but I still had a deep, personal need to be involved in creative work. That's what was missing from my life." Blume started writing fiction. She published her first book, "The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo," in 1969, at age 31 (via Britannica).

With three marriages, two divorces, and an extremely successful career under her belt, Blume speaks with authority about women who try to juggle too many things at once. "Can you have it all? Yes," she said to Bust. "Can you have it all at the same time? I don't think so."

She's also a proud supporter of Planned Parenthood — though she receives threats and hate mail whenever she publicly praises the organization (per The Guardian).

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Modern readers connect with her books

Judy Blume has updated her books only slightly over the years, doing things like changing the type of menstrual products used in "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" from belts and pins to sticky pads (per NPR). She also modernized the electronics in the "Fudge" series. The alterations didn't fundamentally change the books, just made things smoother for the modern reader.

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Though her most popular titles were published in the 1970s, they still resonate. Many young people today don't even realize how old the books are. "They don't know that I wrote them generations ago. They think I wrote them yesterday for them," Blume told NPR.

Her writing still perfectly captures the swirl of emotions inside a tween on the cusp of becoming a teen, or inside a teenager experiencing romantic love for the first time. She told The New York Times that her life's defining age was 12. "I didn't have any adult experience when I started to write," she explained. "So I identified more with kids."

Comedian Samantha Bee adored Blume's books as a child, and it thrilled her when her own daughter discovered "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret." Bee said (per The New York Times), "My daughter is actually reading that book now. She's [nine], and she loves it. It's so fun for me to watch that book reflected in her eyes."

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Judy Blume has many famous fans

Among the many celebrities who admire Judy Blume are Meg Cabot (author of "The Princess Diaries") and Megan McCafferty (who wrote the "Jessica Darling" YA novels). They're just two of the 24 writers who contributed essays to the anthology "Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume."

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Chelsea Handler is also clearly a fan, cheekily naming her memoir "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea." When Handler and Blume appeared together at a conference in 2020, the comedian told the author how much "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" helped her deal with her feelings about religion. "I related to that kind of conflict of religion," Handler said (per The Jewish Chronicle).

When Lena Dunham interviewed Blume for KCRW, the "Girls" creator gushed that she "re-read and re-read and re-read" the author's books. Dunham said, "I have to reiterate for the recording how thrilling it is to get to meet you and talk to you and how, how much what you do has made it possible for me and so many women I admire to make their work."

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Late-night host, Charlamagne Tha God told The New York Post that his dream interview would be with the YA author. "I'm a huge, huge, Judy Blume fan and I grew up on her books," he said. "She's the only person I really want to talk to — on any platform."

The end of Judy Blume's writing career?

Judy Blume confessed to Lena Dunham on KCRW that it was "such a surprise, such an absolute shocking surprise" that her writing "speaks to so many people and touches so many people in some way."

But, to the dismay of her millions of loyal readers around the world, Blume says she's done with writing. "I get up every day now and I say, 'Thank you, thank you! I don't have to write today,'" she told NPR. "Writing is hard and intense." And she swore to The Washington Post that she's "never doing another book tour."

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Fans are keeping their fingers crossed that she might still change her mind. They're also hoping she'll live as long as the woman she's called her inspiration (per Vanity Fair): children's author Beverly Cleary, whose death at age 104 devastated several generations of readers. Fun fact: Many years ago, Blume and Cleary's mutual publisher accidentally mixed up their fan mail. "I admit I read a couple of letters meant for her," Blume confessed.

Even if she has truly retired from writing, Blume still loves books — so much so that in 2016, she and her third husband opened a bookstore. Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West is a nonprofit independent bookstore in Key West, Florida. Blume is also active on Twitter, with a bio that reads (of course): "Are You There, Twitter? It's Me, Judy."

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