Author Spotlight: Rita Lorraine Hubbard
Sept. 14, 2018
We are excited to feature picture book author Rita Lorraine Hubbard and her debut picture book, HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM, illustrate by John Holyfield (Lee & Low Books, Sept. 2018).
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Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I’m a former special education teacher of over 15 years. I taught grades K-9 and was often responsible for choosing books for the curriculum, including supplemental texts. There weren’t always textbooks available to match academic and cognitive needs. In those days, there also weren’t many library books available that featured people of color or children with disabilities/challenges. I began to come up with titles and plots of the kinds of books I felt my students deserved to read. I also began writing my own curriculum and teacher handbooks.
That being said, I must admit that I was writing for children long before I became a teacher. I was actually writing for children when I was still a child! My earliest memory of writing picture books is when I was in first grade and I folded some notebook paper together, stapled it and wrote a story called Little Lost Puppy. I’ve been writing picture books ever since.
Congrats on your debut PB, HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
Thank you! HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM is the true story of an enslaved blacksmith who rented himself from his “owner,” moved to the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and worked for the next 25+ years earning money and purchasing freedom for himself and his family members.
I stumbled across his story while I was researching my first book, African Americans of Chattanooga: A History of Unsung Heroes. I kept seeing William Lewis name in early history books or as footnotes in the early census reports or town meetings. For example, one census report listed him as one of the most prominent of the 98 “free Negroes” in the city. I even found a newspaper article that mentioned how William hired both black and white men to work in his blacksmith shop when slavery was still existent -- a scenario that was almost unheard of at that time. I began to photocopy the bibliographies from these early history books so that I could pull articles and examine out-of-circulation books that mentioned him. One day I was perusing the microfiche for an early 1900s event and stumbled upon an old, faded picture of William! I was intrigued. I kept digging until I uncovered his entire story.
What inspired me: I am fascinated by how industrious slaves, free blacks and other people on the fringes of society were. They had no cars, no public transportation, no books, no money, no libraries (and they wouldn’t have been allowed to borrow books if they had), no lawyers, no education, no freedom, no…well, anything. And yet they overcame. I found this deeply moving and felt obligated to bring as many of these stories to life as I can find.
Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
The road to publication was a bit rocky. The original manuscript was fiction based loosely on William’s life. I chose to fictionalize his life because there would not be so many parameters and boundaries. Once we decided I would write it as nonfiction, I was faced with the challenge of tying up all the loose ends. This took lots of time…and Pepto-Bismol™. There were a few other variables that stretched out the publication date, but I won’t dwell on those. My advice for any writer who is experiencing a delay is: Hang in there. It will happen!
What other projects/books do you have coming out?
I have a book tentatively titled THE OLDEST STUDENT that will be published by Random House in 2019. I have two pb’s (one fiction, one nonfiction) in various stages of completion that I’m working on. I also have a middle grade historical fiction told through the eyes of a 7-year old that is based loosely on an actual Civil War regiment.
What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
Keep writing. Save EVERYTHING you write, no matter how bad you think it is. Then go back and read it from time to time. You’ll probably be surprised at how good you really are.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
At one time I was set on being an actress. I wanted to be funny, like Lucille Ball. Go figure!
Where can people find you online?
They can check me out at www.RitaHubbard.com. I also manage a site called The Black History Channel – www.theblackhistorychannel.com, and I post picture book reviews on my site, Picture Book Depot – www.picturebookdepot.com.
Rita Lorraine Hubbard is the author of a number of nonfiction books for young adults and runs the children's book review site Picture Book Depot and the historical site The Black History Channel. While researching her book African Americans of Chattanooga: A History of Unsung Heroes, Hubbard discovered William “Bill” Lewis’s story buried in some earlier history books. She was greatly moved by Lewis’s love of his family and determination to overcome the odds. Hubbard lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can find her online at .