Judith Levy, best selling author of 'Grandmother Remembers', reflects on her first book
By Donovan Ortega
When Judith Levy moved to Boca Raton in 1979 she was, to put it plainly, bored.
“The days were 35 hours long and I just couldn’t hit a ball and chase it my whole life. I needed a project,” said Judith resolutely.
Mustering up her courage, she enrolled at Florida Atlantic University and registered for a course that centered on family history. She recounts walking into the classroom on the first day and being a minority. Almost everyone in the class was a grandparent. They had come, she remembered, to write down their family history so that they could pass it down to their grandchildren. Many of them were there because they felt that they
had slipped into a diminished role in their grandchild’s life. They had become a voice on the phone or a present in the mail.
“They didn’t like that,” said Judith. “But many of them were having trouble putting their thoughts onto paper. And then I remembered when I was a little girl in school, the teacher would give us prompts. Like, “During the summer I—“, and that would get us moving in the right direction.”
Out of that small recollection, Judith began to devise a tool that would spur grandmothers everywhere to put their memories down on paper. But she was unsure about telling people of the project, especially her husband.
“I knew the idea would work. I was sure of it. But I was nervous about telling my husband because, well, you know how husbands are,” said Judith with love and a hint of tolerance. “But he was supportive! He told me to get it published and said, ‘it doesn’t matter how many no’s you get, you only need one yes’.”
She began with absolutely no writing experience but pushed forward, secure that she had found the project she’d been looking for amid the boredom and restlessness of her recent move to South Florida. She finished the book. The final product acted as a matrix for a grandmother to fill in and give as a gift for her grandchild. Judith is careful to note that her name is not on the front cover, as the book is truly written by the grandmother whose memories adorn the pages. What best captures the spirit of the book is a poem that Judith wrote and placed at the beginning. It reads:
I offer you my memories
So that you will know
Your Grandmother was a little girl
Not so long ago
She had the first copy of Grandmother Remembers printed on computer paper and began hawking it to publishers, boldly walking into offices and asking to speak to editors. Her audaciousness put off publishers initially, but they became even more confused when she told them that technically, the book wasn’t written yet.
“Who’s going to write the book they would ask” said Judith, recounting confrontations with perplexed editors, “Maybe your grandmother, I would tell them.”
Finally, with the help of a graduate student she hired for five hundred dollars, Judith compiled a sleeker, more attractive product, complete with illustrations. Soon after, Judith Levy’s nerve paid off. She got published.
Grandmother Remembers went as high as number two on the New York Times best sellers list. It has since sold over three million copies and brought about a slew of spin offs that include Grandfather Remembers, Mother Remembers, and Father Remembers. However, the original remains the most popular and Judith designates its success to the basic attributes that seem to be bestowed upon all matriarchs.
“Grandmothers are the family historians. It’s not hard for them to fill out this book. It’s second nature. And no matter what clothes they wear, religion, or language they speak, a grandmother’s love is universal,” said Judith. “When I thought of this idea I didn’t have any grandchildren. Now I have five. I think understand better now, than I did then.”