Judy Blume on Flying Saucers, The Thing, and the 1950s
On June 29, the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library welcomed one of the world’s most beloved authors, Judy Blume. Following cheers from the audience as Judy walked to the stage, City Librarian Vickery Bowles opened the evening, saying:
“Judy is a true champion of intellectual freedom, working in support of teachers, librarians, and students everywhere. Our mandate at Toronto Public Library is to create a city of readers, and it is with writers such as Judy Blume in our midst, that we succeed.”
The sold out event was filled with fans of all ages who came to hear the acclaimed author and recipient of over 90 literary awards speak about her first novel in over a decade: In the Unlikely Event. Close to 1000 guests filled the Atrium and Appel Salon sporting “I [heart] Judy Blume” buttons with #IheartJudyBlume trending on Twitter. Judy was interviewed by freelance journalist Rachel Giese.
In the Unlikely Event takes place in the early 1950s outside Elizabeth, New Jersey where three planes fell from the sky in just 58 days. Thirty-five years later, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown to attend a commemoration of the event – and experiences the worst year of her life. Set against a backdrop of 1950s music and true events, Blume tells the story of how these crashes sent a small-town community reeling, relating individual tales of love and explosive friendships, conspiracy theories, and a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy.
Elizabeth, New Jersey is Blume’s home town and the plane crashes happened when she herself was a teenager. The inspiration and recollection of the story came after Blume listened in as another writer share her mother’s stories of the 50’s. Just like that, a green light went off! Blume decided to tell the story and not classify it as historical but rather a contemporary fictionalized account. She explained:
“As kids you try and come up with reasons. You don’t want to believe it’s a coincidence, there’s gotta be a reason! Everyone was looking for an explanation… It was flying saucers, and it was zombies, and it was aliens, it was the time of the movie The Thing. It was the Commies because the Commies were blamed for everything. The girls [of my age] said it was sabotage.”
To accurately recall the plane crashes and subsequent events, newspapers were the main source of information. TVs and coverage of the news was nothing like it is today. Back then writers weren’t referred as journalists but rather newspapermen. Blume felt the newspaper articles were informative, well written, and in the language of the 50s – descriptive and a little over the top. One reporter referred to the plane’s crash as “…came down like an angry wounded bird.” Another described it as “…breaking apart like a swollen cream puff.” The language in the papers helped shape the tone of the story and capture a more authentic backdrop.
Judy Blume has penned twenty-eight novels for children and adults. Her books have sold more than 85 million copies and have been translated into thirty-two languages including these timeless titles: