With classics such as “Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” Judy Blume long ago cemented her status as one of the best young adult authors in the United States. It will now be easier than ever for researchers to revisit these childhood favorites and to measure their impact on American society, as Yale acquired an archive of Blume’s material earlier this month.
The archive, whose material spans four decades and includes fan mail, letters and other manuscripts related to Blume’s novels, will open for research in 2018. Timothy Young, curator of modern books and manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, said the acquisition strengthens the library’s collection of children’s and young adult literature.
“The best young adult novels introduce readers to the challenges of the wider world, of increased responsibilities, difficulties and rewards,” Young said. “Judy Blume’s books have served as key examples about how to write sensitively, but honestly, for teenage readers.”
Blume, who began publishing novels in 1969 and continues to write to this day, is considered one of the pioneers of the young adult novel.
She has been praised for focusing on adolescence and all its tangential problems in a way few authors have done before.
“She has covered perhaps the widest range of topics for the greatest number of young readers [in the genre],” Young said.
The collection includes a number of unique, never-before-seen items, such as an unpublished 128-page story entitled “Donna and Jessie’s Name Hunting Society” and a 12-page short story featuring Fudge and Peter, two of the main protagonists in several of Blume’s novels.
The archive, however, goes beyond just Blume’s writing. From critical reception to obsessive fan mail and censorship, the archive also documents the plethora of responses some of Blume’s controversial work have garnered. Young said he has seen letters from adolescents thanking Blume for discussing topics they were scared to bring up, as well as from parents who were angry about Blume’s exploration of taboo issues.
“Fan letters and complaint letters allow us to trace how Americans were feeling about certain touchy subjects,” Young said. “This expands the research potential of the papers to the sociological and the demographic.”
The genre of young adult fiction has grown exponentially in popularity in recent years — over 10,000 young adult books were published in 2012. According to Young, the genre didn’t begin to address issues teenagers face until the 1960s, with the publication of landmark books such as S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders.” Blume began writing as the genre was expanding.
Part of Blume’s historical significance also lies in her willingness to broach the topic of sexuality among adolescents. Her books were banned in a number of schools in the 1980s and 1990s because they included such sexual themes.
“She refused to punish her characters for their misdeeds or make them shining examples of moral fiber,” said English professor Jill Richards, who teaches a class on young adult literature at Yale. “Even when I was a teenager in Texas in the 1990s, we couldn’t find her books in the school library.”
The acquisition of Blume’s work is part of a larger effort by the Beinecke to expand its children and young adult collections, which Young described as a “relatively new pursuit” for the library. The process of collecting these historically overlooked works was started by Betsy Beinecke Shirley, who gifted material to the library from 1987 until her death in 2004. Published earlier this year, “Story Time,” a book of 14 essays by Beinecke researchers and Yale faculty, focuses on these archives. Blume’s work is the latest to be added to this repository.
Ultimately, the archive will be used by researchers to aid their academic investigations. Heather Klemann GRD ’13, the English Department’s director of expository writing at Yale, has used the Beinecke to research children’s author Mo Willems. She stressed the importance of these archives in providing context for an author’s work.
“[Archives] enable us to make better, more informed arguments about literature, how it works, and why we read it,” she said. “In many cases, they break down book publication as a process that often involves many more parties than just the author.”
Blume’s most recent book, “In the Unlikely Event,” is a historical novel recounting three airline crashes in the 1950s in New Jersey. The book was published in 2015.
Conor Johnson | firstname.lastname@example.org