Judy Blume speaks at Carnegie Library lecture hall
July 6, 2016 12:00 AM
"In the Unlikely Event," by Judy Blume.
By Julie Hakim Azzam
When Judy Blume, the author of 29 books for children and adults, visits Pittsburgh on Tuesday, she promises to divulge a secret.
“I am going to reveal for the first time some things about Pittsburgh and my life and my stories ... I have never told anyone,” she said during a phone interview from her home in Key West, Fla.
Hosted by Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, Ms. Blume will be in conversation with Steven Herb, director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book. The event with the author of children’s classics such as “Blubber” and “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” sold out within a few hours after tickets went on sale.
Ms. Blume’s most recent book is “In the Unlikely Event,” a novel about teenagers and their families but written for adults. Based on events from the author’s childhood, the novel focuses on 1952 Elizabeth, N.J., when several commercial airplanes crashed near schools and orphanages. Despite the tragic events that propel the plot, the novel is a love story and emphasizes the theme of resilience.
“It’s about life, and living, and that you can still find pleasure and love” even after tragedy, she said.
Ms. Blume got the idea for the novel while she attended the Key West Literary Seminar.
“It was that moment that I knew I have to tell this story,” she said. “It was like an OMG moment.”
The crashes didn’t impact Ms. Blume at the time. There was no 24-hour television news cycle that whipped the public into a frenzy.
“We never spoke of it at home or at school or with any adult, — ever,” she said.
Not speaking about significant events, ranging from crashing airplanes to puberty, was a theme. The idea in the ’50s was, “if we don’t talk about it, it didn’t really happen, and you don’t have to worry about it,” she said.
In the absence of guidance, teenagers in “In the Unlikely Event” produce wild theories ranging from political sabotage to alien invasions to explain the crashes.
“What kids will do, especially imaginative ones, is to invent scenarios that are sometimes worse than the reality,” she said.
Sharing books became a way for Ms. Blume’s mother to communicate things to her.
“She couldn’t talk about anything of consequence, but she handed me books, and through those books, I knew what was important to her,” she said.
Ms. Blume spoke with enthusiasm about her latest endeavor — an independent bookstore in Key West, which she owns and operates with her husband.
“This was going to be my stay-home-and-read year, and it’s turned out very differently, but it’s very exciting,” she said. “Writing is very solitary, and I am a people person. I love chatting with people at the bookstore.”
Will there be another Judy Blume novel in the future? Maybe not.
“There’s a lot of relief in not writing. I’m 78, and I’m having fun,” she said. “But no more jumping down from window seats to fix books.”
Julie Azzam teaches English at the University of Pittsburgh (Twitter: @JulieAzzam).
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