Home > Articles

April 27, 2023 | Matt Jaeger

Are You There, Judith? It’s Me, Matthew, or The Time I Got an Hor D’Oeuvre from Judy Blume 

Key West, Florida is a special sort of place: roosters prancing through the streets, Hemingway’s six-toed cats, karaoke taxi cabs, conch fritters, flowing streams of daquiris, loud music, louder people, quiet hammocks, colors heretofore unseen, and a quite definitive “live-and-let-live” lifestyle. It at once seems both lawless and refined, a culture made up of outlaws, outcasts, and creatives who, over the decades, have instituted their own traditions and well-defined way of life. Key West is familiar and foreign, both a recognizable part of the United States and whole another world unto itself. 

And I walked its streets enthralled, especially since I had discovered the particular deliciousness of the mojito on that trip.  

In 2008, I traveled to this southernmost part of the continental US to attend the Key West Literary Seminar. As a recent graduate of Spalding University’s Master’s Program in Creative Writing, I journeyed with some fellow alums to this virtual paradise to attend lectures and workshops by famous authors, including bestsellers Junot Diaz, Nell Freudenberger, and Ann Beattie, Poet Laureate Billy Collins, and Kentucky author (and now KY Poet Laureate) Silas House. The theme of the seminar was “New Voices: Where Have We Been and Where are We Going?” and lectures covered topics like “how to find your authentic voice,” and “discovering a new voice.”  

Given the paradisical setting and the sagacity of speakers, I was certain that inspiration was going to fall favorably upon my developing writer’s voice.  

Little did I know that my voice would be tested on my second night in Key West when I was invited to attend a meet-and-greet with some of these authors. On my way to the event, I remember thinking, “What do you say to people you admire so much?” Do you compliment their work? Do you talk about your own? Do you ask about their current project? Do you ask for advice? Do you banter about the weather or food or view from the window? Or do you do nothing at all and just listen?  

I was anxious walking into the apartment, so I quickly walked past a small woman in a brown dress who was holding a tray by the door and beelined for the drinks table. One glass of wine, then another, and I was looking around, trying to decide what to do, when I saw one of my alumni friends coming toward me.

“Hey, Matt,” the friend said. “Recognize the woman by the front door?”  

He was talking about the small woman in the brown dress who has holding a tray of meat and cheese. My face apparently indicated that I didn’t recognize her because my friend said, “That’s Judy Blume.”  

As it turned out, Judy Blume was one of the organizers of the Seminar. Not only did I not know she would be at this meet-and-greet, I didn’t know she would even be at the conference.  

Now, of course, when you have the opportunity to meet one of your childhood heroes, you must take that opportunity. However, as I made my way toward Judy Blume, the same questions about what to say came back to haunt me, and they were compounded tenfold because now I was hopelessly starstruck. My feelings were beyond admiration and ventured into the realm of reverence.

Say something smart, I thought to myself. This is a woman who has made you laugh and made you think. She made you see the world in a different way. She inspired your love of stories and writing. She is loved by millions. Be witty, be complimentary, be gracious, be humble, and above all, be smart.  

I walked up to Judy Blume, looked her square in the eye, and said, “Uhh…” 

She smiled.  

I looked down at the tray she held, and grabbing a toothpick, speared a cube of colby-jack cheese.  

“Thank you, Ms. Blume,” I said, and then I walked away, chewing on the cheese, embarrassed by my impotence. It wasn’t how I wanted to meet Judy Blume. Not in the least. All I could hope was that the voice behind my “thank you” somehow conveyed all the thoughts and admiration I had for her.  

I like to think that she was wise enough to know exactly what I meant.  

By Matt Jaeger 

School Outreach Coordinator , McCracken County Public Library

Photo Credit: JudyBlume2009.jpg: Carl Lender[1] of Flickr.com derivative work: Solid State Survivor (talk) – JudyBlume2009.jpg