On Feb. 4, 2018, The Knockturnal attended Judy Blumesday, a celebration of Judy Blume’s work and her 80th Birthday at the Symphony Space theater.
It was a Super Bowl of another kind: Powerhouse writers, actors, and comedians gathered together on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to honor “Living Legend” Judy Blume in honor of her 80th birthday and decades of shaping the minds of generation after generation of impressionable teens into their adulthood. Meg Wolitzer (author of The Interestings, The Wife) hosted the evening, sharing the impact that Blume had on her as a writer and as a preteen girl, and even a poem she wrote in which she tried to find the silver lining in the current political climate, weaving together Blume’s book titles and popular turns of phrase.
Every celebrity that came to the stage had their own moment of impact to recall, a blip in their adolescence where they felt alone until they read Blume’s words. The event was billed as adults-only (there was a children’s centric reading earlier in the day), so the performers blushed and giggled their way through Blume’s more risque and vulnerable passages.
Tavi Gevinson (founder the millenial/Gen Z Blume-style ‘zine Rookie Mag, she also starred in This Is Our Youth), Julie Klausner (of Hulu’s Difficult People, podcast host of “How Was Your Week?), Jenna Ushkowitz (Glee, co-producer of the Once On This Island Broadway revival), Laura Gomez (Orange Is The New Black, Women Artists Writing member), Michael Chernus (Orange Is The New Black, Easy), and Guillian Gioiello (The Carrie Diaries, Marvel’s Iron Fist) tackled the first “Whirlwind Tour” of excerpts from Starring Sally J. Friedman; Then Again, Maybe I Won’t; Summer Sisters; Tiger Eyes; Blubber; In the Unlikely Event; Wifey; Deenie; and What Kids Wish They Could Tell You.
Molly Ringwald, cinematic and pop culture icon of the ‘80s lent her voice to Blume’s best known and quoted or parodied work, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Her foray into Blume’s books actually started when she and her fellow players snuck peeks at their mothers’ copies of Wifey. She remarked how her eight-year-old daughter had some questions after listening to her practice her bra shopping monologue and she immediately thought “Here we go again!”
While reading explicitly sexual content from Forever, friends and comedians Phoebe Robinson (fresh off promoting her new HBO special 2 Dope Queens with Jessica Williams) and Hasan Minaj (The Daily Show, Hasan Minaj: Homecoming King) were the first to really go off script and add their two cents to their dialogue. Robinson couldn’t contain her famous cackle nor could Minaj keep from blushing in dismay as they read a passage detailing a young couples’ first time having sex in the 1970s. Minaj was incredulous at Michael’s navel-gazing and narcissistic handling of the encounter, while Robinson was equal parts empowered and distressed by Katherine’s complicated ownership and passivity in her sexuality. For every interjection of “Yasss!” there was also a groan of disdain. Minaj was certainly vicariously apologetic.
Samantha Bee spoke of sobbing through meeting Blume at the 92 Street Y years ago, and that the biggest lesson she learned from Blume was to never talk down to your audience. Her work on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” pushes audiences to rise to her level, and they do, thanks to Blume. She had the uncomfortable task of reading from Wifey about a housewife’s unsatisfying sex life and dreams of an extramarital affair (a rarity for its time), which led her to have to fan herself with her signature blazer.
Blume is known for her “fairy godmother” status to budding writers, and Tayari Jones and Rachel Vail were on hand to share their fairytales. Vail knew that when Blume told her that she was a good writer that she could actually believe her, because Blume had been nothing but honest over her entire career. Jones’ story was particular touching, as her encounter with Blume came at a time of real need, when her previously published books were taken off the market and she couldn’t find anyone to take on her next manuscript. Blume heard her read from her work at the Key West Literary Seminar, took her hand and introduced her to her now publisher at Algonquin. Jones didn’t even know that it was Blume who in that moment had “saved her life.” Even more proof of the Blume Effect? As of this writing, Oprah just picked Jones’ latest title An American Marriage, to be her Book Club read this month.
There was also a surprise video from Amanda Palmer, a music video for her original song called Judy Blume (which will be released on Youtube February 12), a poignant vignette of audiences young and old, male and female, of all different backgrounds, curling up with and finding solace in the pages of Blume’s books, with special birthday wishes from Margaret Cho, Patton Oswald, Diablo Cody, Amy Poehler (who hilariously congratulated Blume on “keeping it tight”), Whoopi Goldberg, and John Green, to name a few. Finally Blume herself took the stage to thank everyone. She joked how she had written about plenty of other subjects besides sex, but none were as funny. “There is no better gift, being here with you,” she said before she embraced each performer and exited stage left.