LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Judith Viorst, the author of the iconic children's book "Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," has a new book of poetry. It's about what happens after you grow up, all the way up.
JUDITH VIORST: Even though I'm pushing 90, I'm only a girl of 88.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The book is called "Nearing 90." WEEKEND EDITION books editor Barrie Hardymon visited Viorst at home to talk about it.
BARRIE HARDYMON, BYLINE: Judith Viorst's children's books are on many, many shelves. But she's also a prolific poet.
VIORST: The poets I revere are Auden, Dickinson, Hopkins, Eliot and Yeats. But I decided somebody has to write about Metamucil and saggy kneecaps. So why not me?
HARDYMON: Her latest book of verse is part of her poetry series on the decades - "Hard To Be Hip Over 30," "How Did I Get To Be 40," "Forever 50," "Suddenly 60," "I'm Too Young To Be 70," "Unexpectedly 80" and now "Nearing 90."
Can I ask you to read one or two poems?
VIORST: Sure. (Reading) Once upon a time, I flirted - smooth skin, long-haired, tight-skirted, never satisfied with what I got, foolish choices, duds I dated, bad vacations, jobs I hated. What did I complain about? - a lot. Once upon a time, I twinkled. Now I'm achy, creaky, crinkled, also slowed down, sidelined, out of touch - no stroke, no chemotherapy and, as of now, dementia-free. What's there to complain about? - not much.
HARDYMON: We met in her cheerful, brightly colored Washington, D.C., home, where she's lived with her husband, Milton, a retired journalist, for decades. There are photos of them, their children and grandchildren on every available surface and wall at every conceivable moment in their lives. When they first moved to Washington, she took a job as an editor at a science nonprofit that also published books. They asked her to write about the NASA space program.
VIORST: I remember coming home sobbing to Milton, saying, I've finally gotten a chance to write a book. And they want me to write about space. And I don't even know where space is. And spoken like a true reporter, he said, say yes. We'll figure out where space is.
HARDYMON: She did, of course, go on to figure it out. She's now the author of science books, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, four musicals and some of the most beloved children's literature of all time. Viorst has been a writer since she was 7.
VIORST: My first masterpiece was an ode to my dead mother and father, both alive at the time and quite irritated.
HARDYMON: It was a short poem, which she still remembers called "Children's Blessings."
VIORST: (Reading) They took them up the golden stairs far away from me. I wonder if ever again my parents I will see.
HARDYMON: But they were alive.
VIORST: They were alive and, as I said, very pissed off.
Well, you got to start somewhere. The famous Alexander, the one who went to bed with gum in his mouth, is her youngest son, who she said had more than his share of bad days trying to keep up with his brothers. "Lulu And The Brontosaurus" is the product of a rainy day babysitting restless grandchildren. And her book about the death of a beloved cat is a response to a difficult question from her oldest son and became the classic "The Tenth Good Thing About Barney."
VIORST: Tony was - I don't know - 5 or 6. And out of the blue, he said to me, mommy, am I going to die someday? So, you know, all prepared in my mommy way, I said, everybody dies. Everybody dies but not for a very, very, very long time. And he says, mommy, I don't want to die. And I said, in my lowest moment as a mother, maybe they'll invent something (laughter). Then I decided what I better do is write a book, work it out for myself and my son.
HARDYMON: Viorst gets asked a lot for parenting advice. After all, she studied Freudian psychology and wrote a few nonfiction books. One is called "Necessary Losses," which is almost the mission statement for all her books, even the one starring kids. Loss is hard but crucial. And it doesn't feel good.
VIORST: Practically, everything that I've written that is funny or joyful I've probably lived through first with tears and crying and bitching and moaning and carrying on. I mean, I am not your merry, little lady bouncing chucklingly through life. But eventually, I pull myself together. I'm hoping that I'm now doing it at a quicker pace.
HARDYMON: Viorst is still writing, still reading widely, looking forward to grandchildren graduating and feeling pretty great.
VIORST: Somebody asked me recently what my favorite time of life was. And I absolutely stunned myself by saying right now.
HARDYMON: That's Judith Viorst. Her new book of poems is called "Nearing 90."
Barrie Hardymon, NPR News.
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