The author Judy Blume says a rise in intolerance in America has led to a “much worse” epidemic of book banning than she experienced in the 1980s.
The children’s and young adult author, whose frank depictions of adolescence and puberty have long caused controversy, said it was time to fight back against censorship.
Her 1975 novel, Forever, which deals with teenage sexuality, was one of 80 books banned in one Florida school district last month, for dealing with issues such as sex, race and gender.
In an interview on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Blume said of book banning: “I thought that was over, frankly … I came through the 80s when book banning was really at its height. And it was terrible. And then libraries and schools began to get policies in place and we saw a falling-off of the desire to censor books.
“Now it is back, it is back much worse – this is in America. It is back so much worse than it was in the 80s. Because it’s become political.”
Children’s stories have become the latest battleground in the culture wars. When Puffin Books removed some of the more pejorative language from new editions of Roald Dahl’s works, it prompted a backlash.
Public outrage is not new to Blume. When her book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was released in 1970, its candid portrayal of puberty caused plenty of uproar and library bans. Even her own children’s primary school refused to keep a copy.
Now a screen adaptation of the book is to be released in May, starring Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates.
Blume said she cried when she finally got to see her work made into a film 53 years later. “I think it was my son who said to me: ‘Just wait until all those people who grew up with your books are in power in Hollywood and you’re going to see what happens.’ And I’m so glad that I’m around to see it.”
Blume’s books have sold more than 90m copies and been translated into at least 32 different languages.
Asked if she was concerned about intolerance in the US, Blume said: “Absolutely. Intolerance about everything: gender, sexuality, racism. It’s just reaching a point where again we have to fight back, we have to stand up and fight.”
Blume said she was also worried about censorship in teaching. Florida introduced a bill last month that may limit discussion of menstruation before the sixth grade and the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, is proposing to restrict conversation about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
“I mean, that’s crazy. That is so crazy,” Blume said. “And it is so frightening that I think the only answer is for us to speak out and really keep speaking out, or we are going to lose our way.
“I mean, there’s a group of mothers now going around saying that they want to protect their children. Protect them from what? You know, protect them from talking about things? Protect them from knowing about things?
“Because even if they don’t let them read books, their bodies are still going to change and their feelings about their bodies are going to change. And you can’t control that. They have to be able to read, to question.”
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