National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

Introduction of Judy Blume, Recipient of the National Book Foundation's
Medal for DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTION TO AMERICAN LETTERS, 2004

Delivered by Deborah E. Wiley,
Chairman of the Board of Directors
of National Book Foundation

at the 2004 National Book Awards Ceremony and Dinner
November 17, 2004
New York Marriott Marquis, Times Square, New York, New York

Copyright © 2004 the National Book Foundation. All rights reserved.
This speech may not be reproduced in any form without written permission.

Deborah Wiley, Photo credit: Robin Platzer

Thank you, Garrison. And thank you Abby for such a wonderful reading.

One of the great pleasures of being the Chair of the National Book Foundation is having the honor of presenting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. This year is the first time the Foundation will bestow the Medal on a writer whose principal audience has been young readers, and whose work has made her one of the most influential and important writers in America.

Various authors desire different outcomes from their work, including fame, fortune, social influence, political change, love, and to leave an everlasting mark. Perhaps young adult writers have a special place for the last item on that list. Their books reach still-forming minds and have the opportunity to imprint themselves, to help these growing personalities over a few of the rough spots, to explain a bit about how the world works, and, perhaps most important, to be enchanters, to be literary alchemists, to be the sorcerer's apprentice who takes the jumble of letters and words and sentences, and out of them creates lifelong readers.

Judy Blume is just such an artist and artisan. You see her readers on school buses and subways and in bookstores, their noses buried deep into Fudge or Superfudge or Tiger Eyes, or late at night when they are supposed to be asleep they huddle under the covers with a flashlight and speed through Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Deborah Wiley and Judy Blume. Photo credit: Robin Platzer

Though boys often read her work, especially the Fudge books, it's to girls she has spoken most powerfully. You can turn to your neighbor tonight and if she's under 55 Judy Blume was one of her best friends from the ages of 9 to 13. If she's over 55, Judy Blume was her daughter's best friend in those years. Few writers in America have had such an enormous impact in encouraging children to be children and adolescents to be adolescents, and inspiring them to develop in their own ways, in their own time, in accordance with their own dreams.

Her individual works are among the most acclaimed books for young readers in the country. Blubber won the New York Times Outside Book of the Year, Tiger Eyes was an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and won the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award. And in these perilous times, just two months ago, the American Library Association designated her as the second most censored author in America over the past fifteen years. She has taken up the gantlet of that censorship and dedicated her time, energy, fame and money to ensure that the written word will continue to be free and unfettered in our society.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, it gives me great pleasure to present the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Judy Blume.