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Festival of Reading draws hundreds of Judy Blume fans

Judy Blume, 77, talks about her newest book, the adult novel 'In the Unlikely Event,' at the Tampa Bay Times Reading Festival, Saturday, October 24, 2015. [Times Files]

Judy Blume, 77, talks about her newest book, the adult novel 'In the Unlikely Event,' at the Tampa Bay Times Reading Festival, Saturday, October 24, 2015. [Times Files]

ST. PETERSBURG — Alice Copeland clutched two books with sweaty palms as she walked away from the author who wrote them.

"I'm still kind of jittery," Copeland, 12, said after meeting Judy Blume, a writer famous for her young adult fiction.

Copeland was one of hundreds in line to meet Blume, who headlined the 23rd annual Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading on Saturday. Book lovers from in and out of town gathered at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus to hear from more than 50 authors.

The festival kicked off with a talk from Blume, 77, about her newest book, the adult novel In the Unlikely Event. But first Blume reminded the audience why they were there.

"I am your childhood," she said, eliciting a burst of applause from the packed ballroom.

Her latest, one of four books Blume has geared toward an adult audience, is based on true events from the winter of 1951-52 when three airplanes crashed in Blume's hometown of Elizabeth, N.J., killing more than 100 people.

The book took her five years to write, she said, because much of it was based on news stories and interviews with people she grew up with. Many of the memories they shared ended up in the book, which is told from multiple points of view. Blume offered some advice for readers who may get confused by the changing perspectives.

"Don't worry about all these characters," she said. "Read them as little vignettes."

After the talk, Blume held a book signing, where a line wrapped around the inside of the building and out the front door at one point. Her mass of fans ranged from children to seniors, a sign of Blume's ability to transcend generations.

Copeland and her friend Stephanie Rizzo, 33, said their love for Blume's novels helped close their 21-year age gap. Rizzo pointed to Blume's 1970 novel Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, about a sixth-grade girl working her way through life as a pre-teen.

"The things that happened to Margaret in the '70s are completely relatable to Alice growing up in 2015," Rizzo said. "We have something we both bond over."

Blume signed her last book about two hours after the meet-and-greet began. The Key West resident had never visited the Tampa Bay area before, she said, but the fans she met here were unlike any in the 30 cities she's visited on her book tour so far.

"They had the most energetic, lively response," she said. "I just wish it could've been longer."

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

Festival of Reading draws hundreds of Judy Blume fans 10/24/15 [Last modified: Saturday, October 24, 2015 9:21pm]
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