Student Success Stories: Rita Lorraine Hubbard
Today is publication day for Rita Lorraine Hubbard‘s picture book with Oge Mora, and I am so excited to share this interview with you! This is not Rita's first picture book, and it has been getting a great deal of attention over the last couple of months. I'm happy that I won't have to wait much longer to read it.
I am giving away a copy of Rita's picture book, The Oldest Student, at the end of this post.
Myrna: What is your profession?
Rita: I’m a full-time children’s and young adult author, and I occasionally perform freelance editing for fellow writers. Before my writing career, I was a special education comprehensive development teacher for 20 years.
Myrna: What made you want to start writing picture books?
Rita: I think I was born with the desire to write picture books, because I can remember writing them in early elementary school. Every time I saw a blank piece of paper, I folded it, then began to write stories and illustrate them. One of my elementary buddies who came to see me in my mid-twenties reminisced with me about still having one of my early hand-made picture books. She said I titled it, Little Lost Puppy, and wrote that it was written and illustrated by ME, ha!
Myrna: That's awesome! Your picture book that’s coming out in January has been garnering starred reviews. How many do you have now? And how does it feel to know that so many industry professionals are feeling a strong emotional connection to your project?
Rita: There are starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly; reviews from Junior Library Guild, Booklist, Black Enterprise, and even a mention on the Wall Street Journal’s book review section. As for how I feel, I’m humbled and honored! Many times our hard work, sweat and tears are not recognized…or celebrated. When they are, I feel you should cherish the moment.
Myrna: That’s so exciting! You told me that you were “passionate about preserving history by giving a voice to unsung and previously unheard heroes who overcame great odds.” I love that! Could you briefly share a bit about some of the heroes you’ve written about?
Rita: You already know about William Lewis from Hammering for Freedom, and Mary Walker from The Oldest Student. I also have several completed manuscripts that have not yet been shopped out, but we’re getting them prepped. They include:
- A woman who came south just after the Civil War and started an orphanage for children of color.
- An African American inventor who amassed over 60 patents, but who is largely unknown and unsung in America.
- An African American female physician who built and managed her own hospital during a time when blacks weren’t allowed inside white hospitals.
Myrna: I hope we get to see all of those stories unfold, Rita. Hammering for Freedom: The Story of William Lewis won the New Voices Award from Lee & Low Books in 2012. What did winning that award mean for the future of your book?
Rita: First and foremost, it meant…YES, we like your book! After so many near misses, this win was the boost I needed. Secondly, it meant I had direct access to a publishing house and the full power of its many resources. I got to talk to editors, chat with publicists, and I even got to meet the owner of the publishing house. By the way, Lee and Low is a most generous publishing house, and the staff are committed to making your final product [book] the very best it can be. Big shout-out to my Lee and Low editor, Jessica Echeverria Coodin.
Myrna: In 2014, one of your manuscripts won an award from SCBWI. Would you tell us about that process, please?
Rita: In 2014 my middle grade manuscript earned a SCBWI Letter of Merit. When you are a member of SCBWI, you’re eligible to enter their awards and grants competitions. I entered a middle grade novel called The Man Who Saw Everything in the WIP (works-in-progress) competition. It is a fiction manuscript based on the true story of a man who died eight days short of his 133rd birthday. If I remember correctly, the process includes having to submit a 250-word synopsis and the first 10 pages of your manuscript. I did not win first prize, but I received a personal letter stating that my manuscript showed great promise and I was highly encouraged to continue seeking a publisher for it.
Myrna: Thanks for sharing your experience. Do you have any advice for those who are writing about history?
Rita: Yes, find as many primary and secondary sources as you can. Consult with regional or even national historians. Often, they will offer to read your manuscript and give you their opinion about its authenticity. Talk to family members (if any are still living) and try to contact any journalists who wrote about them. Don’t assume that journalists or staff writers are no longer living simply because their articles came out decades ago. When I found William Lewis’ name in an early history book, I assumed the author was deceased. But I took a chance and called the newspaper that published the book and the author answered the phone! He’s elderly and he had forgotten some of the details about the articles he wrote, but he had donated all his handwritten notes to the local library, and he directed me to its location. It was a gold mine!
Myrna: That’s fantastic advice! You were already an award-winning picture book author when you started at Storyteller Academy. Can you tell us what drew you to our classes?
Rita: Yes! As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been writing and illustrating since elementary school—and probably before that. I always loved illustrating, and when I was in fourth or fifth grade, one of my watercolors was chosen to hang in one of our city’s art museums. But somewhere along the path of life, I convinced myself that I needed to choose one or the other (writing or art), but I couldn’t have both. So, I chose writing. Then I stumbled upon Storyteller Academy. I don’t remember if it was a promo or one of my friends’ posts, but when I saw it, I clicked on the link and suddenly realized that this might be the vehicle to get me back in touch with my love of doodling. And here I am!
Myrna: I'm so glad you found Arree! I love the doodles you shared.
Myrna: Did taking Arree’s Making Picture Book Dummies change the way you write picture books?
Rita: Definitely! I feel I’m finally learning the true art of the page turn. And to be able to hear Arree talk about how his dummies came together – and to actually have access to his dummy vault, is simply priceless. I also LOVE the different tips on getting the creative juices flowing, especially via the “Post-it Notes” activity.
Rita: In fact, I came up with two more episodes of a serial I’m writing just by completing that activity (thanks, Arree!). Whenever I speak at a conference or book signing event, I mention a list of resources, including this treasure chest called Storyteller Academy.
Myrna: Do you have any advice for our readers?
Rita: Yes, keep writing and/or drawing, even when life gets in the way. And stay active in your “village” (i.e., your writing village AND Storyteller Academy village). Even if you’re having a particularly cumbersome period, don’t give up and leave your village; stay, even if you’re mostly silent for the moment. In my case, I started my latest classes with a bang, but before I knew it, I hardly had time to attend because of the whirlwind of my latest picture book. But just knowing I can come back and be inspired by Arree and the rest of the community gives me hope for my goal of one day illustrating my own book.
Myrna: I agree whole-heartedly. Once you find your people, you want to keep them in your life. What’s next for you?
Rita: Two projects: the nonfiction picture book bio about an African American physician who started her own hospital, and a humorous middle grade novel about a boy who didn’t make the football team.
Myrna: Those both sound great! Where can we find you on the Internet?
Myrna: Where can we buy your book?
Myrna: Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Rita!
Book Giveaway Details
I am giving away a copy of The Oldest Student. To enter, let me know something that you've learned from Rita in the comments by midnight on January 10. You don’t have to buy anything or be a student.
Please share this post on social media for extra entries, and paste the link to wherever you shared as a reply to your original comment.
Thank you for reading!
Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems.
Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award.
Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.