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Arts & Culture

Judy Blume Celebrates Her 80th Birthday At Work In Key West

Judy Blume turns 80 today (February 12), and she celebrated all day yesterday at the nonprofit bookstore she and her husband George run in Key West. It was hard to keep track of how many fans who showed up called her their "childhood hero" (present company included). 

Blume works four days a week at the Books & Books at The Studios of Key West, including all day every Sunday.

"I didn't know it was going to turn into a [book] signing," she said at the end of her eight-hour shift. The party was open to the public, and fans streamed in to tell her their stories of growing up with her as their companion and guide through sibling rivalry and puberty. A few told stories about how they discovered "Forever," her book about the first time two teenagers have sex. 

Blume says before YA (young adult) was a literary designation, bookstores weren't sure where to put the book.

"So sometimes I would walk into bookstores and find it next to '[Tales of a] Fourth Grade Nothing' on the shelf, and I would say, 'No, no, no!'.

Credit Alicia Zuckerman / WLRN
Julie Sellors gets some books signed. Blume spent much of the day signing books, way more than on an average Sunday, she said.

Julie Sellors from Liverpool, England discovered "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret" when the book got passed around her class when she was about 11-years-old. She started reading lots of Judy Blume books after that, and when she and her friends went to the bookstore to buy "Forever," she remembers the bookseller telling them, "This is a lot more grown up than other Judy Blume books." 

"We were like, we know. We know what it's about!" Blume asked how old they were at the time, and Sellors told her they were around fourteen. Blume continued the story for her: "We're ready!"

"I think she just really knew what was going on in your head growing up," said Sellors. "Going through puberty and everything, all those difficult times, it was like she completely understood what it was like." 

Arthur Crocker from Key West said "Doublefudge" was the first book he ever read on his own and remembers a huge feeling of accomplishment. On Sunday, he was buying the book for his nephew (see photo in slideshow above). 

Credit Anthony Polizze
Judy Blume with Eva Polizze and her daughters nine-year-old Olivia and six-year-old Claudia, who were replenishing their Judy Blume collection after losing their home in Hurricane Irma.

One family from Big Pine Key lost their home in Hurricane Irma, including their entire library. Eva Polizze said she had just started reading Judy Blume to her two daughters. Her six-year-old daughter Claudia said, "I lost my room." Her dad bent down and whispered something in her ear, and then she added, "But we have each other." Her mom plopped down a huge stack of books for Blume to sign so they could start over. 

Blume does have a warning for parents. "Once they get to a certain age, don't tell them that these are your favorite books because they consider them not cool."  Customer Sarah Livingston said, "Good point," but explained that she was buying books for her nieces. "I'm just the cool aunt."

Blume said that was fine then. "We should all have cool aunts."

Credit Alicia Zuckerman / WLRN
Judy Blume and her husband George Cooper, after a day of selling and signing books, celebrating her 80th birthday at their bookstore.

Alicia Zuckerman is Editorial Director at WLRN, where she edits narrative and investigative audio journalism. In 2020, she was named Editor of the Year by the Society of Professional Journalists Florida chapter.
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