Judy Blume: legendary career, a new movie - and now an honorary Key West 'Conch'
Judy Blume, whose acclaimed novels like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Blubber and Forever helped generations of teens feel less awkward and alone, has called Key West home for 30 years.
Now Florida Keys elected leaders have deemed her an honorary "Conch" — as in, the shellfish that's the symbol of the island chain and a term of endearment reserved for people born and raised in Key West.
"This is an honor," Blume said at the Harvey Government Center in Key West, during the commission's meeting on Wednesday. "I've had a 30-year love affair with Key West, still going strong."
Blume, 85, spoke only briefly during the presentation, but she used her time to back those on education frontlines. Her young adult novels have been the targets of book banning for decades.
"Remember, support our teachers and librarians," Blume said. "Free people need to read freely, and let's work together to make sure that stays in this county."
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The county's proclamation said Blume "has championed freedom for many banned books by working with the National Coalition Against Censorship, who fight to keep these banned books on their shelves."
Monroe County Commissioner Michelle Lincoln thanked Blume for her books and recalled growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, "as an awkward, gawky preadolescent girl," who would fight with her sister at the library over who got to read Blume's books first.
"Your words on those pieces of paper impacted my life and gave me encouragement when I needed it the most," Lincoln said.
"And I'm looking around at the room right now and all of the women who are grinning from ear to ear, who have equal experiences," Lincoln said. "You have touched so many people in our world. Your books are timeless."
Supporting the island's arts
Blume and husband George Cooper have been honored for their consistent support of the island's arts nonprofits — with both donations and hands-on volunteerism.
Cooper received an honorary Conch certificate several years ago, for helping create the nonprofit movie theater, the Tropic Cinema. "It can hang next to my husband's," Blume said Wednesday, of hers.
In 2016, the couple opened the independent bookstore, Books & Books, part of the nonprofit The Studios of Key West on Eaton Street in Key West, where they put in regular work hours. Blume stocks and dusts the shelves, and often greets fans who drop in — with jaws dropped at the sight of their favorite author on the job.
Blume also serves on the boards of the Key West Literary Seminar, which every January draws some of the world's most acclaimed writers to the island, and the National Coalition Against Censorship.
In March, Blume helped organize a fundraiser for the Tropic Cinema by hosting an advance screening of the film adaptation of Margaret, a month before it hit theaters nationwide.
The honorary Conch certificates are more commonly reserved for longtime local volunteers who are only household names in the Keys.
County commissioners also gave the honor to Jonathan Gueverra, president and CEO of the College of the Florida Keys, and Frank Dunne, the owner of Key West gym Old Town Fitness, who mentors inmates at the county jail and donates gym memberships to locals in need.
But the Keys have honored luminaries before. In 1991, Monroe County Mayor Wilhelmina Harvey presented Queen Elizabeth II with an honorary Conch certificate during the queen's visit to Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas, about 70 miles off Key West.