I regularly teach a children’s literature course at UNC Charlotte, and a few weeks ago one of the students waited to speak to me after class. “Are you going to talk about Judy Blume’s books?” she asked. I told her that I would talk about Judy Blume during an upcoming class session, and she responded by telling me how much she loves Blume’s books. She then told me that she recently worked as an extra in the film version of Blume’s 1970 novel Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, which was filmed in Charlotte during the spring and summer. We talked about her experiences working as an extra, and she agreed to share her experiences with the rest of the class. This past week she told the whole class about how much fun she had acting in one of the scenes in the movie, and I could tell that the entire class enjoyed hearing about her adventures as a budding movie star.
The production company Lionsgate began filming of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in Charlotte, and several of the surrounding communities in April 2021 and continued filming until the beginning of July. The filming brought some famous movie stars to Charlotte, including Kathy Bates, who plays the role of Margaret’s grandmother, and Abby Ryder Fortson, who plays the role of Margaret. Since the film takes place in the early 1970s, the filming also involved shooting street scenes filled with cars from the 1960s and early ‘70s. As a result, several area car collectors had the pleasure of having their cars included in the film. Although the filming wrapped up this past summer, Lionsgate does not plan to release the film until 2022.
The fact that Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was filmed in the Charlotte area has a special meaning for me, for it causes me to reflect on the day I met Judy Blume to interview her about the efforts to censor her books. We met on June 10, 1985, in her home on the top floor of an attractive high-rise in New York City. I can pinpoint the date because I jotted it down on the cassette tape that I used to record the interview. When I listen to the tape now, I am almost embarrassed by how nervous I sounded at the start of our conversation, but I had never interviewed a famous author before, nor even been inside a building that had a doorman. Blume quickly put me at ease by telling me a bit about her family and offering me a beverage. Then, for the next several hours, we talked about censorship. At that time, I was in the middle of writing my first book, Children, Culture, and Controversy, and I was conducting research for a chapter about the various attempts to ban children’s books written by Blume and other controversial authors.
When I asked her questions about the campaigns against her books, she answered in ways that went beyond herself. She often drew connections between her own experiences with book censors and the experiences of other children’s authors whose books had also been banned. She talked about her commitment to children’s intellectual freedom and their right to read a variety of books. She told me about the National Coalition Against Censorship and suggested I interview its then-director, the late Leanne Katz. She also suggested I talk with other authors of censored children’s books. I followed up on her suggestions, and this eventually led to my collection of interviews titled Trust Your Children: Voices Against Censorship in Children’s Literature. I would have never written this book if it were not for Blume’s suggestion and encouragement.
I will always treasure my memories of my trip to New York to interview Judy Blume, and I continue to value my connection to Blume and her children’s books. I have long wished that I could reciprocate her gracious hospitality. In fact, I tried to bring her to Charlotte to speak, but we could not work out the details. However, now that her classic novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has been filmed in Charlotte, I am pleased that Storied Charlotte has its own special connection to Judy Blume.