What Upper West Siders Did Instead of Watching the Super Bowl: Judy Blumesday!

Judy Blume holds a birthday bouquet as she gives thanks to the program’s participants and to the audience.

By Nancy Novick

Longtime fans of the programming at Symphony Space will likely be familiar with the venue’s annual Bloomsday on Broadway, a celebration of the work of James Joyce. Last night, the theater hosted another kind of Blumesday, one that celebrated the upcoming 80th birthday of author, Judy Blume.

Admirers of Blume’s work, spanning at least five decades, filled every seat of this adults-only event, which featured celebrities from stage, screen and podcast. While Blume’s oeuvre includes books for almost every age—Symphony Space held an event earlier in the day for young fans of the author’s G-rated books—the theme for the evening was decidedly focused on her work for more mature audiences. Mistress of ceremonies, novelist Meg Wolitzer, let the audience know how excited she was to be serving in this role, then introduced individual performers including Molly Ringwald, reading from Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret .

Phoebe Robinson cracks up during a reading from Judy Blume’s Forever, while Hasan Minhaj cringes at his character’s awkward responses during a first sexual encounter.

An amused Phoebe Robinson (Two Dope Queens) and a somewhat embarrassed Hasan Minhaj (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah) read about a teenaged couple’s first sexual encounter in Forever. And Samantha Bee fanned herself as she read two explicit passages from Wifey. The otherwise unsentimental Bee then welled up during her tribute to Blume, whom she credited with teaching her an important lesson, “Never talk down to your audience.” Bee also elicited laughter with her recollection of being a child of the 1970s, referring to TV as her babysitter, and getting some important information from the “nightmarishly detailed” drawings from the Joy of Sex.

Throughout, the evening was a love letter with a common theme: an appreciation for Blume’s frank and honest treatment of the concerns of young people, including death, divorce, teen sexuality—including masturbation and gay and straight relationships, bullying, and body issues. Besides reassuring a legion of young readers that their feelings and experiences were normal, Blume has played a direct role in the lives of other young adult authors. Rachel Vail and Tayari Jones thanked their mentor for her encouragement, and assistance in navigating their way in the publishing world.

Actress Molly Ringwald brings to life some memorable moments from Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.

In addition to appearances on-stage, the celebration included a video tribute featuring an original song about Blume by Amanda Palmer, and messages from a host of others including authors Neil Gaiman, John Green, Libba Bray, and Gary Shteyngart, who expressed his appreciation for the books that “got me through Hebrew School”. Also appearing on screen to deliver birthday wishes were Amy Poehler, Curtis Sittenfeld, Diablo Cody, Margaret Cho, and Whoopi Goldberg, who called Blume her favorite frequently banned author. As noted in the program, the author consistently sits close to or at the top of this list of writers whose works are challenged by those offended by their content, compiled by the American Library Association. But at Symphony Space last night, there was no holding back.

As the evening drew to a close, Blume received a standing ovation as she walked to the stage to give thanks for the readings and good wishes, along with the “gift of laughter.” “Eighty sounds worse than it feels,” she assured the audience with a smile and, keeping her remarks brief, stated with a laugh of her own, “No more sex. I’ve written about other subjects, too.”

But it was Wolitzer who had the last word, alluding to the final passage of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. “Will we keep reading Blume’s books?” Wolitzer asked. And then, answered her own question, “Yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Photos by Kevin Yatarola Photography.

ART, NEWS | 3 comments | permalink
    1. Jerry says:

      Been here on the UWS for nearly 40 years. Not a big football fan..but really enjoyed the game.

    2. Brett Mann says:

      DVR is a beautiful thing.

    3. UpperBestSide says:

      The NFL should take a page from Ms. Blume’s playbook and employ grandmothers to deliver tapes of the Super Bowl hand-wrapped in copies of “The Forward” from a year ago. That’s how I acquired my Blume collection, and I’m sure I would be a football fan if the NFL did the same!