Judy Blume Finds Inspiration, Community & Literary Fame in Key West

Judy Blume Finds Inspiration, Community & Literary Fame in Key West

With over 90 million copies of her books in print, beloved children’s author Judy Blume is one of America’s most prolific and popular writers. Though born and raised in New Jersey, Blume has called Key West home for nearly 40 years – having fled south seeking warmth, creativity and community after her divorce in 1976.

What she found on the subtropical island just 90 miles from Cuba was not just relief from the bitterness of northeast winters, but also friendship amongst fellow wordsmiths and a tropical backdrop that fueled her imagination for the second half of her legendary literary career.

While many associate Blume with New England given settings for classics like “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”, it may surprise fans that many of her most famous titles were penned right from her cozy Key West cottage. We’ll explore how island living influenced some of her most iconic works, where to find Blume’s beloved books around Key West, plus sights fans can visit to walk in her footsteps across this southernmost city.

Blume’s Key West Haven From her home on the quiet street of Lighthouse Avenue, Judy Blume found solace, community and inspiration amongst Key West’s lush gardens, island characters and the southernmost writers colony. Having vacated wintry New York in search of warmth when her marriage dissolved, Blume headed for Key West on the recommendation of friends.

She instantly connected with the island’sAnything goes attitude plus vibrant arts scene anchored by authors like Shel Silverstein plus playwrights Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway.As Blume adjusted to solo family life with daughter Randy and son Larry, she continued producing novels at a prolific pace – crediting Key West’s creative spirit for nurturing her imagination over decades.

With blockbusters like “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” already under her belt pre-divorce, Blume settled into her new island lifestyle writing classics like “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great”. She later met her second husband George Cooper on vacation in Mexico – a retired law professor from New Mexico. After marrying Cooper in 1987, the pair split time between homes in Key West and New Mexico while Blume continued publishing treasured titles like “Fudge-a-Mania” plus “Double Fudge”.

Her Lighthouse Avenue, Key West home served as both full-time and part-time residence for Judy, George and grandkids until Cooper passed away in 2019. Beyond the prolific output spurred by tropical inspiration, Blume also credits Key West’s literary community for supporting her personal and professional passions over the past 40 years living in paradise.

Literary Legacy & Superfans on Location

Beyond breathing literary life into many quintessential characters from Fudge to Peter Hatcher, Blume’s frank yet sensitive depictions of puberty also established her as godmother guiding generations of pre-teens through adolescence. With over 90 million copies sold worldwide, few children’s authors reach the commercial success plus cultural influence of Judy Blume.

Given many readers literally grew up with Blume’s books, it’s no surprise diehard fans make pilgrimages to Key West glimpsing sites that filled pages of classic stories.

While she’s called fewer places home than characters like Margaret Simon or Sheila Tubman, visitors can still scout out Blume landmarks like her former Lighthouse Avenue residence, grab a bite at her neighborhood café or admire handsome waterfront homes similar to ones depicted in stories. Fitting for the island’s come-as-you-are ethos, fans who spot Blume around town say she’s down-to-earth plus approachable in person.

Beyond simply snapping selfies at landmarks like the Southernmost Point buoy also captured on the cover of her 2015 memoir, visitors can also support historic preservation projects saving literary legacies across Key West. Blume herself raised funds converting a former funeral home into the non-profit Studios of Key West showcasing resident artists and hosting workshops.

The iconic waterfront house where Tennessee Williams penned “A Streetcar Named Desire” has also been converted into a museum allowing fans glimpses of the creative process underlying literary genius. From Blume to Williams, Key West’s storied literary tradition continues impacting new generations through these thoughtfully-curated sites.

Island Living Inspires Iconic Story Settings

While many assume Judy Blume’s stories unfold across suburban northeast or private school settings she experienced firsthand, the author’s decades living in Key West manifest distinctly in several books’ tropical themes.

Most overtly, her 1997 middle grade novel “Summer Sisters” unfolds primarily on fictitious Cinnamon Key – an idyllic island seemingly plucked right from the Florida Keys. Beyond weaving adventure against a background of white sand beaches plus luxury resorts, one main character – like Blume herself –even relocates from chilly New England seeking refuge on Cinnamon Key’s balmy shores.

Blume paints the oceanfront small town peppered with touristy t-shirt shops, funky cafés plus crumbling Victorian mansions occupied by eccentric locals as seasoned only by decades soaking up Key West charm.

While not specified overtly as the Florida Keys, keen readers also pick up on island inspiration throughout Blume’s Fudge series chronicling family hi-jinks of Peter, Fudge and mischievous grandma across five books.

Beyond focusing one entire book on the family’s “Vacation” seemingly to tropical islands near Key West, the chaotic clan also decamps to warmth-seeking Grandma’s home every winter break – allowing presume her digs host the action amidst sandy beaches, palm trees and radiant warmth.

Though she’s called New Jersey, New Mexico and Manhattan home at times, Blume’s fiction undoubtedly assimilates details absorbed during amazing island sunsets, briny scents on sea breeze and decoratively unkempt island aesthetics adored by locals and visitors alike.

Supporting the Key West Literary Community

Becoming part of Key West’s storied creative community not only provided personal fulfillment, but professional inspiration throughout Judy Blume’s long tenure in town. Just as fellow literary icon Ernest Hemingway supported emerging writers of his era through mentorship plus patronage, Blume also reached out helping new voices get published – providing encouragement to carry on Key West’s rich storytelling legacy.

A few notable scribes who credit Blume for boosting their careers through her literary leverage, networking in publishing or doling candid critique include playwrights Marsha Norman plus Mark Dunn along with best-selling authors Meg Cabot and Lois Lowry.

Beyond directly nurturing fledgling authors, Blume has also given back to the Key West community supporting historic preservation of spaces allowing future generations of writers to thrive. Both Blume and her late husband George Cooper were vocal advocates plus generous donors to the non-profit Studios of Key West – founded specifically to provide affordable housing ensuring working artists can remain part of the island community amidst rocketing rents and property values.

The result is not just gorgeous gallery space plus thriving workshops preserving Key West’s creative heritage, but also living spaces allowing painters, musicians and writers to remain embedded locally sharing ideas and inspiration.

Also intent on preserving Key West’s Cultural legacy, Blume supported converting the former residence of Tennessee Williams into a museum that’s still accepting visitors today. Through financial contributions plus pulling strings in elite social circles, Blume leveraged her star power so fans and emerging authors alike can tour the home where “The Glass Menagerie” took form.

From residencies to museum spaces plus active participation in the island’s thriving literary scene, Blume has not just absorbed inspiration from Key West but consciously nurtured the iconic writers sanctuary so future generations can discover the creative magic that so profoundly impacted her storied career.

The living legacy of authors like Hemingway, Williams and more recently Blume imbues tropical Key West with a creative spirit that’s launched thousands of stories past and still to come. So for both established plus aspiring writers visiting America’s island city, Judy Blume would likely encourage soaking up exquisite fiction fodder from vibrant characters to radiant settings under the Southernmost skies.

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