Judy Blume Salutes 16-Year-Old Bookshop Owner Annabelle Chang

Literary icon Judy Blume has been in the public eye for more than 50 years, but lately she’s been posing for even more cameras than usual.

For the past few months, Blume has been everywhere — from the red carpet premiere of the feature adaptation of her 1970 classic “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” in Los Angeles last week, to Variety’s Power of Women ceremony in New York City, where she was honored earlier this month. But on Monday night in Studio City, Calif., it was Blume’s husband George Cooper on the other side of a cell phone camera lens. As Blume was introduced to an eager (and pink-masked) crowd by 16-year-old Annabelle Chang, who owns Annabelle’s Book Club LA, Cooper sprang from his seat behind the desk to capture the moment on his cell phone.

Amid the applause from the audience, Blume made her way to her seat for a discussion about the Prime Video documentary “Judy Blume Forever,” joined by the film’s directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok. The Q&A, moderated by Chang, followed a special screening of the film – now streaming on Prime Video – which chronicles Blume’s life and career, exploring how her books ushered in the YA genre and made a profound impact on readers of all ages.

It was Pardo who initially approached Blume about making the documentary, an ask that the author says she’d never gotten before. As for why she agreed, Blume explained, “It seemed to me then, that if I didn’t do this in my life, somebody was going to do it after, in my after lifetime. And wouldn’t it be better, for me, if I was here to tell my story. I knew that I would want to be honest and open and here it is. I did it and they did it.”

But that doesn’t mean watching herself in the documentary isn’t weird. “I see the woman on the screen and I go, ‘Who is she?’”

While Blume might’ve dissociated from the on-camera version of herself — especially in some of the documentary’s more intimate segments — she’s quite clear about the important themes Pardo and Wolchok wove into the film. For example, “Judy Blume Forever” not only chronicles Blume’s rise to prominence as an author but the various challenges her work has faced by censors and politicians who’ve banned her books. “Censorship is about fear,” Blume said.

When Pardo and Wolchok set out to make the documentary, they always intended to include Blume’s fight against the censors, who’ve challenged books like “Are You There God?,” “Blubber,” “Deenie” and the coming-of-age novel “Forever…” But they’d initially envisioned it to be “the historical section of the film.”

Pardo explained: “We knew books were still being banned and we knew we wanted to interview authors whose books were being challenged, but we had no idea where we’d be right now. Things have exploded and it is so disturbing. We hope this film helps that conversation in some way, so that every kid, wherever they are, finds their Judy Blume.”

Annabelle Chang interviews Judy Blume and “Judy Blume Forever” documentarians Leah Wolchok and Davina Pardo following a screening of the film on April 17 in Studio City, Calif.
Victoria Sirakova/Getty Images

For Blume, looking back at her books’ initial challenges in the 1980s is a reminder of how “ridiculous” and surprising it was. (“Is puberty a dirty word? Is it a dirty subject?” she remembered thinking. “Do adults know this is going to happen to their kids whether they like it or not?”)

And she’s troubled “to be back there now, but worse, much worse because it’s coming from government and legislators trying to pass insane laws trying to tell young people what they’re allowed to talk about.”

As a longtime resident of Key West, Flor., Blume has a front row seat to these restrictive policies, which left her family with a simple choice: “Run away or stay and fight. We all have to speak out or we’ll lose these precious rights of ours.”

When Chang replied that Blume’s persistent fight against censorship is inspirational to her, the author turned the compliment back around.

“It’s people like you who give us hope, because you’re the next generation and you’re who’s going to be most affected it,” Blume told the teenager. “So, you’re the ones who have to speak out and fight the good fight. I know that you are already doing that.”

Blume also revealed one of her favorite moments from the documentary, a line delivered by author Jason Reynolds. Reynolds co-wrote the 2015 YA novel “All American Boys,” which has also been challenged and banned in a number of states.

“I don’t think Judy Blume wrote her books to be timeless. I think she wrote them to be timely,” Reynolds said in the film. “And because they were so timely, they were timeless.” Of his praise, Blume said, “That’s the quote that I want for the rest of my life. That really got to me.”

Later, the conversation turned to the more than 50 years of correspondence from fans that Blume preserved and are now archived at Yale.

“I’m a person who doesn’t keep things. I’m like, ‘Get rid of it.’ George, my husband, is kind of a pack rat and he keeps everything. He still blames me for giving away his checkbook stubs from when he was in college,” she told the giggling crowd, recounting a cute story about how her decision kept him from winning a debate about how much sweaters cost back in the day.

But those letters were too important to throw away. “They meant too much,” Blume said. “I moved around a lot, lost a lot of home movies of me doing endless cartwheels at age 9 on Miami Beach. So I couldn’t give [the filmmakers] any of that, but the letters I kept.”

Speaking of impact, Blume also took a few questions from the audience, including a mother who compared the tears she shed watching the documentary to her daughter’s experience crying throughout Taylor Swift’s Eras tour concert. Another query came from 17-year-old Shay Rudolph (Netflix’s “The Baby-Sitter’s Club”) who asked for advice about finding her purpose as an author. “Did you realize when you were writing these stories for kids that you were the voice for them?” Rudolph asked. “Or were you truly just pouring your heart out onto the page?”

“It was just pouring out. I didn’t write thinking, ‘Look what I’m doing. I’m going to touch people’s lives.’ No nothing like that. It was ‘Please let something get published,’” Blume recalled. “Success came so late, very sweet and slow. Otherwise, it could stop you from writing if it comes really fast.”

Judy Blume poses with Annabelle’s Book Club LA owner Annabelle Chang following a screening of the documentary “Judy Blume Forever.”
Victoria Sirakova/Getty Images

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