In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a retrospective of some of our favorite “frequently-challenged” author interviews and book reviews. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Check out this ALA timeline, showing significant banned and challenged books over the past 30 years. These are some of our all-time favorites—can you imagine someone denying you access to these books?
Our guest today is beloved author Judy Blume. More than 80 million copies of her books have been sold and her works have been translated into 31 languages. This highly acclaimed writer is the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Library of Congress Living Legends Award, and the 2004 National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Judy is one of the most frequently banned writers in America, having found herself in the middle of an organized book banning campaign in the 1980s. Since then she has championed intellectual freedom, working with the National Coalition Against Censorship to protect the freedom to read.
Judy asked that we use some of her previously released statements as answers to two of these questions. However, we are snoopy Snoops and just had to throw a couple of extras in there for her!
What effect does a censorship climate have on a writer?
Chilling. It’s easy to become discouraged, to second-guess everything you write. I’ve never forgiven myself for caving in to editorial pressure based on fear, for playing into the hands of the censors. I knew then it was all over for me unless I took a stand. So I began to speak out about my experiences. And once I did, I found that I wasn’t as alone as I’d thought.
You must have been surprised when people began to take issue with your themes about real-life adolescent experiences.
I wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret right out of my own experiences and feelings when I was in sixth grade. Controversy wasn’t on my mind. I wanted only to write what I knew to be true. I wanted to write the best, the most honest books I could, the kinds of books I would have liked to read when I was younger. If someone had told me then I would become one of the most banned writers in America, I’d have laughed.
What’s your biggest fear about censorship with regard to young people today?
What I worry about most is the loss to young people. Some people would like to rate books in schools and libraries the way they rate movies: G, PG, R, X, or even more explicitly. But according to whose standards would the books be rated? I don’t know about you but I don’t want anyone rating my books or the books my children or grandchildren choose to read. We can make our own decisions, thank you. Browsing at the library or in the books on our shelves at home, allowed me to find and read books I can still recall, books I might otherwise never have read. I’m thankful my parents encouraged me to read. Reading was a good thing in our family, not something my parents feared.
We have always wondered how you could possibly understand exactly what we all felt and experienced as young girls, both spoken and unspoken. How do you do this?
I can’t explain it. It’s just something I can do. I know that’s not a satisfying answer — maybe it’s that I identify so closely with kids, am able to connect one-on-one with them. Does it have to do with my ability to remember my own childhood so vividly? I’m sure that’s part of it. It’s just such a part of me I don’t question it.
Thanks for taking a few minutes with us, Judy!
Judy continues to write for young adults. You can keep an eye on what she is up to on her website.
Join us again tomorrow for an interview with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of the frequently-banned Alice books. Click here to see all of our interviews in the Best of Banned Books Week series.