Acclaimed Author Judith Viorst (NCAS ’52) Inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni


Earlier this month, renowned author Judith Viorst (NCAS ’52) was inducted into the Rutgers University Hall of Distinguished Alumni (HDA), one of the most prestigious honors that the university bestows upon its graduates. Viorst, the author of more than 30 books, was honored along with four other alumni whose professional and civic contributions have made a mark on our society, putting them in the rarefied company of past HDA inductees such as chef Mario Batali, actor James Gandolfini, author Janet Evanovich, late actor and humanitarian Paul Robeson, and Nobel Prize–winners Selman Waksman and Milton Friedman.
Viorst, who grew up in Maplewood, NJ, is an acclaimed author whose 19 children’s books and 17 adult works include the American Library Association Notable Children’s Book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and the New York Times best-seller Necessary Losses. For 25 years she was a contributing editor at Redbook magazine and has written the book and lyrics for three musicals.
Viorst and her husband, Milton Viorst, a long-time writer for the Washington Post, live in Washington, D.C. We caught up with her prior to the event to reflect on her time at Rutgers-Newark and what this honor means to her.
When did you first learn you were going to be inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni?
A few months ago
What did you feel upon learning the news?
I was thrilled and surprised. There’s something about how time telescopes, and you think of yourself as an eager freshman starting college and all this time goes by, and many years later the college honors you. You get both images in your mind simultaneously: the 80-plus-year-old lady and the 17-year-old college girl. And you remember new beginnings, then set that image side by side with where you are now. It’s very moving.
Had you heard of the Hall of Distinguished Alumni prior to getting the news?
No. But it sounded really good. I remember walking around all day feeling really distinguished.
What does this honor mean to you personally, in light of your experience as an undergrad, first at the New Jersey College for Women (now Douglas Residential College), then at Rutgers-Newark?
Rutgers was the beginning of my intellectual life, and it’s powerful to have been set on a path that’s led to this moment. I owe so much to Rutgers and NCAS. That the school is acknowledging me after all these years is a great honor.
And what’s it mean to you professionally, given that Rutgers has graduated hundreds of thousands of students in its long history but only 208 alums have been inducted into the HDA—including Paul Robeson, Hazel O’Leary, Milton Friedman.
I sure like the company I’m in. Wow. I sort of feel like Sally Fields: “You like me. You really like me.” That my alma mater thinks well enough of me to want to put me in this very, very distinguished company…it’s a nice outside validation. We writers tend to be an insecure lot. We remember only the bad reviews. This is a really good review.
Are you looking forward to the induction ceremony itself, getting back to the campus where you began your college career?
Yes. My husband, and two of our three sons and their wives, will be there. It will be nice for them to see mom up there. When you’re a writer, people always ask you, Aren’t your kids impressed? No, I say. They just want to know what’s for dinner. So, I’m hoping to make a really big impression on them. It should be a very moving and special event.