Words have power. So says the new brochure for eDitmore Editorial Services. I was reminded of that phrase Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books because it is powerful to watch thousands of people browsing through hundreds of booths filled with words in many shapes and forms for every age and taste.
And I was reminded of the phrase again as I sat in an auditorium with more than 1,000 people who had come to listen to author Judy Blume, who over the past 40 years has written some powerful and well-loved novels for children and adolescents. More than 80 million of Blume’s works have been sold since she first began publishing around 1970.
I did not grow up reading Judy Blume’s books as many of the other audience members clearly did. Although I would have been about 10 years old when her famous Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” was published, I don’t remember seeing it until I was much older, and I don’t remember ever reading it.
My favorite Blume works are the “Fudge” books we read with our sons when they were younger. But, even though I was not the quintessential Blume fan, I was happy to have a chance to hear from an author who has been so successful for so long.
Blume was charming and gracious throughout the interview with Los Angeles Times columnist Mary McNamara, who opened the session by declaring her admiration for Blume and recounting the influence the books had on her adolescence. Blume explained how writing opened up worlds that she had not quite realized were available to her and spoke about her writing process and the experience of working with her son on a soon-to-be-released movie adaptation of her novel Tiger Eyes.
But it was the question-and-answer session that drove home again to me the power of words, particularly when placed in novels and stories by someone as skilled as Blume. Children came to the microphone to ask questions about characters they obviously thought of as friends. And women came to say thank you for novels that they had enjoyed as children and that they now enjoyed sharing with their own children. Some described how Blume’s books had helped them navigate difficult periods of their lives and gave them the words to identify the pain and joy they felt at the time.
The most touching and most powerful testimony came from a woman who told Blume that her books had changed her future. Struggling to maintain control of her emotions, the woman said, “I didn’t come from a house of books like you did,” referring to Blume’s earlier description of her own childhood. “Both of my parents had a third-grade education,” she said, her voice breaking. “And I think that my sisters and I—the fact that we all have completed some higher education—I really think we owe that to your books.”
Blume, obviously touched by the woman’s words, had a catch in her own voice as she thanked her for sharing those feelings.
Sitting in the first balcony, high above the speaker at the microphone, I was again convinced that “Words have power.” And how words from storytellers like Judy Blume, when they are published and and made available to the right readers, can affect the lives of people that the writers will never meet, never know about.
I doubt that I will ever have the chance to work with a writer like Judy Blume who will influence and entertain millions of people around the world for generations. But the words in the books and articles I edit may some day influence one person’s life in a way I will never know about. That possibility makes me feel especially grateful to have the chance to work with words and with writers and publishers every day. Because words have power.