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"I had a bodyguard - it was very scary": Judy Blume on censorship and receiving hate mail


As the author of beloved teen reads such as Forever and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, it's hard to imagine Judy Blume attracting the ire of anyone.

But the 76-year-old best-selling author has revealed how she receives hundreds of hate mail messages and has to have a bodyguard to protect her every time she speaks in public on behalf of US pro‑choice group Planned Parenthood.

"I went to a couple of places two years ago and I got seven hundred and something hate-mail warnings – 'We know where you are going to be and we'll be there waiting for you', that sort of thing," Blume told the Guardian in an interview this weekend.

"My publisher sent me with a bodyguard. He was wonderful, I loved knowing he was there. And nothing happened and probably nothing would have happened, but it was very scary."

Judy Blume signs copies of her book Tiger Eyes in Santa Monica last year

Yet Blume is no stranger to controversy, having tackled a whole ream of taboo teen issues over the years. Her 1973 young adult novel Deenie was one of the first to talk openly about masturbation (the 13-year-old protagonist touches herself in "this special place and when I rub it I get a very nice feeling"), while Forever dealt with teen sex and birth control and famously starred a boy who nicknamed his penis Ralph.

Because of this, Blume still finds her books subject to various forms of censorship and bans in places across the world, including the US.

"Deenie, Forever …, every year, somewhere, they're challenged," Blume told the Guardian. "When I started, in the 70s, it was a good time for children's book writers. Children's reading was much freer than in the 80s, when censorship started; 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.

"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."

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is one of Judy Blume's best-loved books

The author said she had always been motivated by her own experiences in capturing that cust of teen-to-adulthood development, especially in her 1970 book Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, which echoes a million girls' driving desire to start growing breasts and begin their periods.

"There's a lot of me in Margaret," she said. "I talked to my own private God the way Margaret does. I would plead, 'Just let me be normal', which meant let me have my period, give me some breasts, and hurry up ... You know, the 50s, the body image for women was round and curvy, and I was this skinny little thing, very small, and I wanted to be round and curvy the way round and curvy women today want to be skinny things."

Blume added that she had been inspired to write 1975's Forever after her daughter Randy became disheartened by the lack of normal teen sex scenes in fiction - of the kind where the girl doesn't end up somehow damaged or punished.

"She was reading all these books, where a girl succumbed [to sex], she would be punished, sometimes she would die.," Blume said. "And Randy said, 'Couldn't there ever be a book where two nice kids do it and nobody has to die?' And I thought 'Yes, I need to write this.'"

She added that some parents were bound to react with alarm after their children read her books, as youngsters are generally drawn to reading about what they aren't quite ready to understand.

So "kids will actually go to Mom or Dad and say 'What does this mean?', which is the perfect time to talk to them about it. But that's when sometimes parents get hysterical. Really. It's like, 'Argh, I don't want to talk to you about this, let's get rid of this book, I don't ever want to talk to you about this, I don't ever want you to go through puberty.'"

Judy Blume poses on her apartment terrace overlooking the Hudson River, New York in 1986

Blume is currently writing a new novel for adults, to be released in summer 2015 (her first novel for adults, Summer Sisters, came out in 1998 and was a best-seller).

The untitled story will be set in New Jersey in the 1950s and revolves around a character who accidentally falls pregnant right after high school and never tells the father.

"I come back to that again and again – what if, what if – it could so easily happen," Blume said. "It was a very scary idea that you could get pregnant, and three of the best girls in my school were pregnant, at graduation, and it changed their lives. There was no abortion, you know. Yes, some girls got shipped to Aunt Betty's house in the country and came back without a baby, and some girls had a hasty marriage."

We, for one, can't wait to read it. Check out some of Blume's best-known books and other classic teen reads that changed our lives here. Or click here to find out about 50 books that have been banned and censored over the years.

Photos: Rex Features and Getty Images



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