Eight years after her last visit to Yale, Judy Blume returned to New Haven for a Calhoun College Master’s Tea and thanked Yale students for helping her begin writing again in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
“Our lives were changed forever by 9/11,” Blume said on Monday afternoon. “I felt I would never write again. There was nothing to be funny about. But [Yale] students gave me heart again. After my visit I was able to write again.”
In a 70-minute conversation with a crowd of eager Yalies, Blume, the esteemed children’s book author, discussed 9/11, the feminist movement, college admissions, the writing process and Yale’s recent cartoon censorship controversy. She also shared reflections on several of her most famous books, including “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and “Summer Sisters,” which explores religious identity, lesbianism, menstruation and other taboo topics.
At her talk, Blume stressed the importance of creative expression, tracing the origins of her writing career. She began writing as a young mother during the early 1960s in suburban New Jersey, before the arrival of the feminist movement, and used writing as a creative outlet.
“I loved taking care of my babies, but I was also going crazy,” Blume said. “When you have this creative energy inside you, it has to come out.”
Blume recalled how a tolerant publishing world of the 1970s supported her writings on controversial topics. But with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan and the rise of the religious right, Blume said a conservatism emerged that prompted many groups to attempt to censor her books.
When discussing Yale University Press’ decision to omit the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad from an upcoming book, Blume connected the controversy to the censorship of several of her own books. In the 1980s, Blume said conservative leaders like Phyllis Schlafly distributed pamphlets entitled, “How to Rid Your Library of Judy Blume Books.”
“Censorship is based on fear,” Blume said. “What is a book about the history of political cartoons if you can’t show the cartoons? What a terrible precedence this sets.”
At another point in the talk, Blume also shared humorous anecdotes about the rejections she faced in the publishing world. She once wrote a story based on a newspaper’s account of a toddler who swallowed a small turtle, she said.
“I got wonderful rejection letters: ‘This is very funny, but we could never publish this; it would encourage kids to swallow turtles,’ ” Blume said.
Many of Blume’s remarks, however, focused on her own struggles with her craft, even as the author over 20 books. “I hate the process of writing. If [authors] love it, something’s wrong,” Blume said. Writing “Summer Sisters” was, as she put it, “three years of torture.”
The predominantly female audience responded with enthusiasm to Blume’s talk, reminiscing about reading her books years before.
Hilary Rogers ’13 said Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” provided her with “a guide to growing up as a girl.”
“It’s such a good experience to see someone who was part of your childhood,” Rogers said.
Echoing Rogers, Rose Wang ’13 said Blume’s books were “very relatable.”
Inspired in part by Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” Rachel Kauder Nalebuff ’13, another student in the audience, recently edited an anthology of women’s first-menstruations stories called “My Little Red Book,” which was published in February.
“I’m a huge fan,” Kauder Nalebuff said. “Her books were the first and only books I found growing up that captured what I felt.”
Of the two male students interviewed, both said they came to the Tea upon their mothers’ suggestions. Etkin Tekin ’12, who was one of the few students to attend a five-person dinner with Blume, said he had read some of her books as a child and enjoyed hearing the author speak.
“She has this youthful exuberance,” Tekin said. “She’s very excited about her work, even though she admits writing is a painful process.”
Blume said she is currently working on a screenplay with her son, Larry.