Judy Blume on Flying Saucers, The Thing, and the 1950s

July 16, 2015 | Sarah Weinrauch

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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.”

Bestselling author Judy Blume and Toronto Public Library Chief Librarian Vickery Bowles.
Bestselling author Judy Blume and Toronto Public Library Chief Librarian Vickery Bowles.

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.

Judy Blume, Vickery Bowles, and Rachel Geise on route to the highly anticipated discussion of Blume's first novel in over a decade, In the Unlikely Event.
Judy Blume, Vickery Bowles, and Rachel Giese on route to the highly anticipated discussion on Blume's first novel in over a decade, In the Unlikely Event.

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.

Rachel Giese posing for a photo pre-interview with author Judy Blume.
Rachel Giese posing for a photo pre-interview with author Judy Blume.

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.”

Audience watching Judy Blume

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.

Interview with author Judy Blume and freelance journalist Rachel Giese.

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:

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume   Freckle Juice by Judy Blume   Are you there god? It's me, Margaret by Judy Blume 
 
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume   Summer Sisters by Judy Blume   Wifey by Judy Blume

Despite the dark subject matter of Blume's new novel, it was a magical night with Judy Blume and her sparkling personality was a delight for every fan in attendance.

Please check back to view the interview with Judy Blume and Rachel Giese on the Toronto Public Library’s YouTube channel. Also, follow the conversation online with hashtag #AppelSalon.

Fans meet and mingle with Judy Blume as she signs copies of In the Unlikely Event.
Above and below: Fans get the opportunity to meet Judy Blume.

Fans meet and mingle with Judy Blume as she signs copies of In the Unlikely Event.

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