Judy Blume + directors Leah Wolchok and Davina Pardo, JUDY BLUME FOREVER (film)

Judy Blume + directors Leah Wolchok and Davina Pardo, JUDY BLUME FOREVER (film)

Judy Blume Forever explores the life and legacy of trailblazing author Judy Blume, whose honest and captivating books changed the way millions of adolescent readers understood themselves and what it meant to grow up. In this special episode, Zibby interviews Judy (again!?!) and the film’s directors. Zibby and Judy talk about their bookstores, giving love another chance, and fan mail (Judy has kept every single letter she has ever received!). Then, the directors share what it was like to work on this special project.


Judy Blume: Hi again,

Zibby. Hello again. Hi.

Zibby Owens: Hello again.

Judy: We didn’t get much time with you the other day either.

Zibby: I know. This is so crazy. I’ve wanted to interview you my whole life. Now in two days, we get a total of ten minutes. Thank you so much for the time. I can’t wait to talk to you ladies about the film and everything. Congratulations on the documentary, the movie. I had my girls watch with me. We’re all obsessed. Everything is amazing. I could not be more of a fan, as you hear all the time.

Judy: And you’re a sister bookseller.

Zibby: And a sister bookseller, yes. How do you like running your bookstore? In this documentary, you said you were ready to get away from the typewriter for a minute and just get out there and be out in the world. I loved that moment. You’re in the store interacting. Tell me what it’s like for you.

Judy: I love it. I liked it better when it wasn’t a tourist stop. I liked it better when they didn’t know that I was going to be there. I like just being there. Now it’s a little bit harder. I’m not sure what I’m going to find when I get back. I love the work. I love arranging books. I like the creative side of it. I like helping people find the right books. I like it.

Zibby: If you get too high-profile in Key West, you can just hide out in my bookstore in Santa Monia.

Judy: Great. I was hoping to get there this trip, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Zibby: Oh, well. Next time.

Judy: Next time.

Zibby: I also loved in the film how you talked about your third marriage and falling in love again at a certain age and finding your partner, who I see behind you.

Judy: He’s here. Wave. I don’t know if she sees you.

Zibby: I see him. Hi.

Judy: Yes, forty-three years.

Zibby: I was wondering if you could talk about what you said in the film about thinking that maybe just love wouldn’t be in the cards for you. I think people can relate to that. Yet next thing you know, life changes.

Judy: As my kids say, you took so many risks doing that. How did you do that? It was a different time. It was the late seventies. It was trying things out. It just worked from the beginning. We didn’t know that it would. We both took a chance. We were willing to take that chance.

Zibby: That’s very emblematic of life itself. If we don’t take these risks, who knows? Who knows what might happen? How do you feel now with your life on display in every which way, the documentary and the movie and now the resurgence to come of all of the books and all of it? How are you feeling just going about your day-to-day life and making coffee or whatever?

Judy: You can’t really think about it because it’s not something that you can focus on, except to count, how many more days before I get home and go back to real life? I think George is really counting the days until we get back. It’s been hard and exhausting but also very rewarding and very uplifting.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I am sure I must have written to you because I wrote to authors all the time. I was thinking when I watched your documentary, I bet that my letters and so many other girls who grew up to be authors are mixed in at the Yale University archive. It must be so interesting to dig through and see whose letters are in there.

Judy: I think so. Right now, I have a biographer. He is spending all of his time at the Beinecke Library at Yale with the boxes and the boxes. He’ll send me an email and say, “I’d like to contact this person who wrote to you and somebody who maybe is famous now.” I’m like, “Really? wrote to me as a child?” It’s exciting. Leah and Davina were able to find so much from that. I don’t know if I told you this the other day. I don’t keep things. I’m terrible. I throw everything out. The fact that I kept all the letters, always, I never let a letter go, must say something. I’m so, so grateful that I was wise enough to keep those letters.

Zibby: Yes, good call. Very good call.

Judy: The family movies disappeared, so they couldn’t use the family movies, endless movies of me trying to do cartwheels at nine on the beach. They disappeared somewhere.

Zibby: Of the whole documentary, the part that I couldn’t stop thinking about is that you were right there when your father passed away. He was saying, what terrible timing. When is ever a good time for any of us to die? Just the image that you were there —

Judy: — It’s because my wedding was coming, he said, what terrible timing.

Zibby: How did it feel for you to watch that and to have to go back into it, but then also watch yourself talking about it?

Judy: It’s very hard. It was hard, but it was cathartic in some ways. It’s an experience that I had. I think it colors your whole life. You never get over it in some way. It’s always there with you. You move on. My father, he would love all this. He would just love it. He would’ve loved having grandchildren. He would’ve been a great grandparent. He was so young. He was fifty-four years old. All of our three children, George and mine, they’re all beyond that age now. When I think how young he was, it’s very sad, but I had him. I had him until I was twenty-one. He’s there with me, always.

Zibby: Thank you for sharing about that. Thank you for everything, particularly these two new movies, all of your work. I relate so much. It’s all just so amazing. I can’t thank you enough. I’m just so honored to be talking to you. Thank you.

Judy: Thank you, Zibby. Thank you. We’re going to get to know each other in person.

Zibby: Good. I’m in. Anytime. Thank you.

Leah Wolchok and Davina Pardo

Zibby: Hi. Sorry for gushing. I’m embarrassed.

Davina Pardo: I love it.

Zibby: If I hadn’t known you had compiled everyone’s collective gushing for the movie, maybe I would’ve felt even worse. Congratulations. This documentary is so amazing. I felt like I got to learn all about her in a way. I thought I knew Judy Blume and who she was until I watched your movie and learned so much more. I read that you had been trying to get this to happen for a long time. Finally in February 2022, she said yes. Tell me what that call was like. When did you find out?

Davina: I remember I was about to go to yoga class. I got the email. I think the first line was, “My answer is YES,” in all caps. I had to rush out because I had to go to this class. I remember getting there and seeing my teacher who I knew pretty well and telling her and bursting into tears. It had been a year’s long effort, conversation. I just felt so deeply that this film should be made, that it would mean so much to people. It was definitely an emotional moment when she was finally ready.

Zibby: Wow. I read that you went back and reread all twenty-eight books. Is that true?

Davina: Multiple times. The first time, it was emotional, visceral experience. I don’t know if you’ve gone back to any of them recently. When you pick them up for the first time, especially the ones that you read and reread a million times, it’s hard to be objective and think about their place in the film. I was trying to read them to have that experience the first time. Then there was a lot of going back to the books and thinking about, how does this connect to Judy’s personal story? How is it connected into the arc of the film? Which of these books are we going to include? There are so many. We had to leave some out. That was a conversation we were having as Leah was reading them for the first time and I was rereading them.

Zibby: You didn’t read them as a kid, Leah?

Leah Wolchok: Oh, my god, your tone of your voice just changed so much. You’re like, you didn’t read them as a kid? What? What planet were you living on? I know.

Zibby: I was like, let me just make sure I understood that properly.

Leah: I know. It’s hard to be around all the fangirl gushers all the time and be honest about where I grew up and what it was like in the eighties in Jacksonville, Florida. Her books were banned and seen as taboo. Puberty was not something anyone talked about. Girls’ bodies were something to be ashamed of. Women’s bodily autonomy was something to be feared. I drank that Southern Kool-Aid. I did not read her books because I didn’t want to break the rules. I sort of put Judy Blume out of my mind. I always knew that she wrote those books you’re not supposed to read as a kid. Although, I will tell you, we read V.C. Andrews. We read Flowers in the Attic. That was somehow okay. I don’t know how those books were accepted. We passed those around under our desks in fifth grade, but not Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., which could’ve helped me so tremendously a shy, insecure, flat-chested eleven-year-old. It would’ve been amazing to meet Margaret on the pages of that book and think about myself and my relationship to my body and my friends and my family and my religion. I was reading them for the first time as an adult. I was introducing them to my two kids at the same time. I was sort of experiencing through their eyes what it’s like as a kid to read her work for the first time and then experiencing as an adult, just how magical the worlds she created — the realism is so magical. It was an intense spring and summer of 2020, obviously, for everyone around the world. We were so lucky that we were able to dive back into our childhoods and escape, in some ways, the pandemic by rereading her work, and for me, for reading her work.

Davina: I think the film is better for having Leah and Leah’s perspective, aside from Leah’s brilliance and sense of humor and all the other things she brought to this film. Having the perspective of a person who doesn’t have that nostalgic attachment — the film can’t just be that connection. We really wanted it to be broader than that. I think Leah really helped on that front.

Zibby: How did you decide who else to bring in as experts, like Cecily von Ziegesar and Lena Dunham and all of the people who talked about the books and Judy herself?

Leah: We always knew from the beginning when we were pitching the film that it would be an absolute dream to have some of the authors that we were able to interview, authors like Jason Reynolds and Alex Gino, Jacqueline Woodson, Mary Choi. Some of them, their work was being challenged even then, even before this crazy resurgence of book banning that’s taken over the country in the past year. Alex Gino and Jason Reynolds’ books have been on the top of the banned books list for the past several years. We knew we wanted to talk to them and hear their perspective as writers who are writing for young people today and whose books are being challenged. We also wanted to talk to creators of pop culture who revolutionized the way girls and women are seen on TV and on the big screen, so we knew we wanted to talk to Lena Dunham, Molly Ringwald, Anna Konkle. When we started watching PEN15, we thought, oh, my god, it would be amazing to talk to these two women who have gone back to their awkwardness of seventh grade and captured it so perfectly and so irreverently on screen. That masturbation episode, those women had to be Judy Blume fans, right? We were so delighted and honored to be able to talk to so many of them that had been in our dream scenario of interviewees.

Davina: In a way, they’re all Judy Blume — we thought of them all as readers. We wanted to treat them all the same way, whether they were a librarian or a celebrity or an author. You’re being interviewed in the same setting against this wallpaper. They’re also all experts, in a way. They’re all experts in their experience of Judy Blume. They all have the intimate experience of reading a Judy Blume book when they were young. There are no expert interviews in the classical sense. Everyone is an expert. Everyone is a reader.

Leah: Including the middle schoolers. We interviewed this group of sixth graders at a middle school in Long Island whose teacher had introduced them to Judy Blume. Some of them, their parents had. Mostly, they were learning about Judy Blume for the first time. That was really a part of the film we knew was going to take us out of the realm of nostalgia and bring us into contemporary day.

Zibby: Wow, amazing. What you had in your head beforehand versus the product and the experience of reality of what happened, was it aligned? Is this what you expected when you did it? Were there many things that were better or worse? Not worse, but unexpected. Did it kind of go down the path you expected it to go?

Davina: I think part of what’s unexpected is how politically resonant it is at this very moment. We knew that books were still being banned. Trump was president when we started. We knew that bodily autonomy was in question, but we had no idea that Roe v. Wade was going to be overturned during our edit and that book banning would surge in the way that it has. It’s at the highest it’s been in over twenty years. That’s been really shocking, upsetting, infuriating. We hope that the film can become a part of that conversation and a reminder to people of how important books are for kids, that we shouldn’t be afraid of books, that these books can only help your child. Your child is going to find this information on the internet anyway. A book will just open their mind and make them have more empathy, make them feel more comfortable in the world.

Zibby: It really blows my mind that this is happening. You read about it, but it’s like, that couldn’t really be happening. Is that really happening? It is. It’s crazy. Denial. What was it like collaborating on this project?

Davina: It was awesome. I’m going to throw this to you because I feel like I’ve just been talking. We were in different places for a lot of it. I’m in Brooklyn. Leah is in New Jersey. We had a very intense phone relationship. We would be working, but doing a lot of thinking and listening to each other breathe on the other line. Really, spending a lot of time together in that way trying to find this shared vision for the film, especially early on, talking through all the choices that we had to make. It’s been really wonderful.

Leah: I know. I have such deep respect for Davina as a filmmaker and such deep love for her as a friend. It was really wonderful to collaborate on this project. This film has brought up so much intimate conversations between us, but with everyone that we’ve worked with. It’s not just the two of us, obviously. This huge, wonderful team of people, our producer Marcella Garcia Steingart and coproducer Emily Schuman, were behind the scenes doing so much work throughout the entire preproduction and postproduction process. Anytime we were on set, we would have a crew, and we would have these conversations over lunch that you would never if you weren’t working on a film about Judy Blume. The interviews, everyone who menstruates shared their first period stories with us. How often are you going back in time to when you were a teenager or elementary school and remembering what it was like that first day you discovered blood on your underwear? It was so nice. It was wonderful to collaborate with Davina and then to have this collaboration with our huge team. We had two great editors and a consulting editor who really transformed the way we thought about the film. It felt like this intimate family, which I think always happens when you’re working on a film, but Judy Blume just brings out emotional honesty in everyone that she meets and everyone that talks about her. It was kind of exhilarating.

Davina: We’ve definitely seen middle-school photos of almost everyone on the crew. At some point or another, a story came out, some embarrassing story. Then people were pulling up photos. Judy just inspires that in people.

Zibby: I’m sure they have lots of social media campaigns planned around all the Judy Blume stuff. There should be a thing where everybody has to post the age they were when they read the book and a picture of that or some middle-school picture. My mom says she still remembers when I was reading the Judy Blume books. It’s really sweet. I thought the film was just so well-done. My husband and I watched together. He’s a producer also. We were watching it, and just everything, he’s like, “This is so good.” He didn’t read Judy Blume. I was like, “But I’m obsessed.” I thought it was really well-done. I think people are going to learn so much more about her and all the advocacy, activism, almost, with the book banning and all of that, her life, her dad, all of it. It’s just so poignant. All those letters, all the time in the stacks, oh, my gosh. You two did an amazing job. I loved it.

Davina: Thank you.

Leah: Thank you so much.

Davina: Your bookstore is in LA?

Zibby: Yes. I live in New York City, but I opened a bookstore in Santa Monia just to make my life easy. They really needed one there. We spend a lot of time there. My brother’s there. My husband works out there. I opened it in February. It’s been so amazing.

Davina: What’s it called?

Zibby: It’s called Zibby’s Bookshop. We curate everything by emotion or by topic, not by genre or anything. We do it all differently. When you walk in, you can discover who you are on the shelves and what you want. Pop in if you’re in LA.

Davina: I wish we had more time .

Zibby: Oh, are you out there now? I should’ve offered to host something. I think I did offer to host something. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I also wrote this essay about the film. If it helps, I just put it in the chat. It’s on Zibby Mag. We ran it last week. It’s just my rave review of the film and everything.

Davina: Thank you. It was great to talk to you.

Leah: It was great to talk to you.

Zibby: Thanks for coming.

Judy Blume + directors Leah Wolchok and Davina Pardo, JUDY BLUME FOREVER (film)

JUDY BLUME FOREVER (film) By Judy Blume + directors Leah Wolchok and Davina Pardo

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