We’ve dug up a special throwback treat from our 1997 Spring/Summer issue: Tori Galore dishes with Blume about exploring feminism from married life in the Jersey ‘burbs during the budding second wave, childhood recall and more.
Happy birthday Judy! We’re so glad you were born to write the tomes of our youth.
Nervous? You bet. But different from meeting-a-dishy-actor-or-famous-rock-star nervous. Its more personal, slightly vulnerable—like the nervous I get when meeting some-guy-I-really-like’s mother for the first time. Except in this case the mother in question has known me longer and more intimately than any man. She saw me safely through puberty my first bra, first period, first kiss. Omnipresent, silently winking, she was loyal and kept secrets. A true friend. So when Judy Blume opened the door and welcomed me into her home, it was all I could do not to give her a big hug and thank her. Is it me, or do we immediately lapse into an age-old gal-pals vibe, figuratively lying on the lime shag rug in my old bedroom, on our stomachs, gabbing. At 58 years old, she looks fucking amazing—everything I imagined and yet not what I expected from someone of my mother’s generation, which I strain to remind myself of, because she was one of my best friends growing up. She was a best friend to all of us girls.
Did you consciously set out to fill a void in young girls’ literature?
I set out to do nothing. I was desperately in need of something, but I didn’t know what it was. I was married when I was a junior in college. I had two children—a son and a daughter—before I was 25. Many young women growing up in the ’50s did that. Everybody didn’t go cuckoo, but I think I would have if I hadn’t found this thing. I loved having babies, but I had to have something else. 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.
Why do you think you gravitated towards writing about pubescent girls and not women your age?
Because that is what I knew best. That is what was real to me. That is what came back easily. You don’t decide what you’re going to write about, it just comes. I had almost total recall of my childhood.
That’s clear in your style—the nuances and details are so exact.
When I was young, it seemed to me that there was every possibility that I could do or be anything. It wasn’t that anyone told me I couldn’t, it was the shift in my life—some-where after 15—from identifying with my father, who made everything seem possible, who adored me and never told me I couldn’t do anything. He was the parent who was fun, and he was the nurturer; he took more care of me when I was sick than my mother did. I didn’t want to be in the kitchen. I wanted to be the hero, the cowgirl, the detective.
What changed at 15?
I think I began to identify more with my mother when I got into the whole dreamy adolescent boy thing with fantasies of growing up and getting married and having babies. I replaced my save-the-world fantasies with romantic ones. Maybe the romantic fantasy is the downfall of the young woman, I don’t know.
Was the idea of writing about being a woman in her late twenties, married with two children, just too terrifying, too close to home?
It never occurred to me. I wasn’t ready for that until I wrote Wifey. That took a long time because I was living that life. I wasn’t ironic about it. It was, “Oh shit, this is what I wanted and now I’m stuck with it!” What do you do with that? I made these choices. I listened to my mother. I should have listened to my father. You know, writing saved me. It gave me a life, a sense of myself. In the context of what was happening in the ’70s, everybody was free to do all these things. I had never done anything, I never had an adolescent rebellion, my brother was so rebellious that my role in the family was to make everybody happy. I’m still fighting that.
Did Wifey rock the world of those around you?
I got zillions of letters from women. It made a lot of men very upset. I left my husband and suburban New Jersey and I moved to Santa Fe. Then I wrote Wifey.
If you hadn’t left, do you think you, could have written it?
I never could have written it when I was still married. I think my ex-husband handled it brilliantly. I remember giving it to him, and saying, “If there’s anything in here that really bothers you, I’ll change it.”
Before it was published!?
I think so. And he didn’t say anything. He stayed out of it. I think that was really very smart. I admire him for that. Wifey was my coming of age. I thought, “I’m not just this twelve year old.” It was time for me to deal with this other me; this woman…
…who had never been explored.
Right, and this life that I was raised by my mother to live and then I didn’t understand why I wasn’t happy. So it was a very freeing experience for me, very necessary in my evolution.
Were you aware at the time that junior high students all over America were highlighting the passages of Forever that contained sex and passing them around study hall?
Yes. Good. Well, what did you think?
I was overwhelmed and stunned.
Did you feel betrayed?
It was a little scary. I was maybe 13 and, sexually, a late bloomer. What you were describing was so out of my context. Yeah, I probably did.
I think it’s unfair for us (my generation of women) to want you to come through for us.
I’d love to come through for you. I love your generation, my twenty and early thirty-somethings, because that’s who grew up reading my books. You’re my most loyal readers! I meet you at book signings and it’s so unbelievably sweet. These young women come up to me and they look at me and I look at them and then we start to cry.
The mention of your name elicits a visceral reaction from my generation, both women and men.
I can’t wait until you’re all running the world.
There are going to be statues of you all over the place. Who were your female heroes growing up?
I don’t know that I had them. Who did I know about who was out there doing things? I didn’t know any women who wrote. I knew movie stars and stage actresses. I wanted to be Margaret O’Brien dancing the unfinished dance; I wanted to be Esther Williams—I wanted to swim underwater and smile at the same time.
What about the women around you?
My aunt was a teacher and then a principal of a school. That was something back then. She was married but never had children. She was independent. Miss Fae, who I thought was very glamorous, worked for my father, a dentist, for 30 years. She never married. She took me to the ballet. She had a Roadster with a rumble seat. She smoked and could tell dirty stories with the guys. She seemed exciting to me. But the reality was that she lived in a little house with her widowed sister and her parents.
She must have been a pretty powerful alternative to your mother.
But my mother had the husband and the house and the children. My mother did not like it when she came and taught me how to put on mascara for the prom, because my mother never used mascara. Miss Fae drank, and my mother never drank. My mother thought that my father enjoyed being with Miss Fae a lot, maybe too much.
Sounds like we’re becoming a generation of Miss Faes. We’re independent and confident. We have our own careers, smoke cigars, tell dirty jokes and throw our heads back when we laugh. And we’re living alone.
So was Miss Fae. Maybe that’s what I should write a book about. There’s an idea.
So, does a woman have to choose between The Mother, Miss Fae and The Principal, or can she be all three women at the same time?
You can be all three women in your lifetime. I’m not sure you can be all three women at the same time. Can you have it all? Yes. Can you have it all at the same time? I don’t think so. Maybe you can if it all works right. But you can live many lives.
Blume and I discuss her marital history. Married sixteen years to a nice, sensible, Jewish doctor as her mother had prescribed, she then divorced and married the next man she met—on a plane—only weeks later. She sums up those years as incredibly stupid, having put not just herself through four years of hell, but her kids as well, for which she can never forgive herself. At the conclusion of her second marriage, and with the help of therapy, she learned to appreciate her children and her work. She resigned herself to the notion that, at 41, she would never have that intimate relationship she had always chased. A couple of months after her second divorce, she was fixed up on a blind date. On their third date he moved in. They have been together seventeen years.
Do you have any regrets?
I was never single. I think it would have been wonderful to have been single when I was young, and have a chance to figure it all out, but then maybe I never would have figured anything out. Instead I just rushed in. I gave much more thought to my first marriage partner than I did to my second or third. My second was a disaster, and my third is heaven. It’s everything that one could wish for. I get by in life a lot on instinct. I can’t say that I recommend it.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes, I am a feminist. That doesn’t mean I don’t like men, I’ve always liked men. We are different, I accept that. Sooo different. But it’s interesting to figure out those differences. I began to think for myself somewhere in my late twenties and thirties, I began to question this way of life, this authoritarian male society. I accepted it throughout my marriages, I never tried to get my husband to change. Fear of Flying was a very, very important book to me.
I was becoming aware. My husband blamed it for my unhappiness—which is simplistic, to say the least—the way many men blamed Wifey.
When are you happiest?
It’s hard for me to say when I’m happiest because I always feel happy. When am I least happy—that’s easier for me. I’m unhappy when my kids are unhappy. I have a friend who has said to me, “A mother is only as happy as her least happy child.” And I think that is absolutely true.