Judy Sussman was born February 12, 1938, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Jewish parents: Esther, a quiet, book-savvy housewife, and Rudolph, a dentist. Much of Blume’s fiction finds itself rooted in this family, particularly her father, who provided the model for many of his fictional counterparts in his strong joviality and support for his daughter’s imagination.
As in many of her novels, though, physical distance between father and daughter proved to be problematic. In one instance, the family was forced to move to Florida for two years out of health concerns for Judy’s older brother, David; her father remained in New Jersey, working to support them. Both siblings would experience severe illness in their youth. Her father’s death in 1959 at the relatively young age of fifty-four, coupled with the death of two of his brothers in their forties, would haunt Blume’s prose with a preoccupation with parental separation, mortality, and isolation.
Blume attended New York University (NYU), after mononucleosis arrested her start at Boston University during her first year there. She graduated with a B.S. in Early Childhood Education in 1960, which she never utilized, as she wished to stay at home with her children. In fact, she attributed much of her impetus to be an educator to her mother’s pragmatism that she have a career in the event that marriage did not work out for her. Esther Sussman’s anxieties were quite prescient.
Judy Sussman became Judy Blume when she married John Blume, a lawyer, in 1959, during her junior year in college. Blume has stated that their sixteen-year marriage constituted a period during which she was expected to fulfill the role of a domestic homemaker: raising children, Randy Lee in 1961 and Larry in 1963, and attending to her husband, whom she divorced in 1975. Blume claims that her parents had instilled within her a need for a successful career, and she felt that her development was being arrested in such a marriage as hers. She would revisit this scenario with her short-lived marriage to Thomas Kitchens in 1976; they divorced in 1979.
It was during her marriage to John Blume that Judy began her preoccupation with storytelling and returned to her educational roots. She began writing her fiction in 1966 when her children entered nursery school. While she met with some success early on (two short stories were published over a three-year period), she encountered far more failure, receiving up to six rejections a week from publishers. Undeterred, though, after finding limited success, Blume enrolled in a graduate course at NYU titled “Writing for Children and Teenagers.” The class would lead to her first books, The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo (1969) and Iggie’s House (1970) and predated her revolutionary 1970 opus, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Though met with a mixed reception because of its incredibly frank verisimilitude in dealing with both Margaret’s menarche and her internal struggle to find a voice for her religious beliefs, the novel was praised as one of the outstanding books of 1970 by The New York Times. The book also marked Blume’s first forays into censorship, as numerous groups sought to have it banned for its controversial exploration of familial and sororal bonds, religion, and the emergence of a nascent sexuality in women. While critically mixed, the novel was popularly acclaimed, particularly after it went into paperback, where its seventy-five-cent cover price made it widely more accessible to children.
Further notoriety followed with the publication of Freckle Juice and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t in 1971 and It’s Not the End of the World in 1972. Since that time Blume has written or edited more than twenty books and placed seventy-five million copies into print. She has expanded her canon to include a few distinctly adult novels. She also adapted her 1972 children’s novel Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great into a stage musical produced in Millburn, New Jersey, in...
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