|Crystal Hubbard||Interview, February 2009|
Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby: The Story of Jimmy Winkfield
Like his hero, the great Isaac Murphy, Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield would stop at nothing to make it as a jockey. Though his path to success was wrought with obstacles both on the track and off, Wink faced each challenge with passion and a steadfast spirit. Along the way he carved out a lasting legacy as one of history's finest horsemen and the last African American ever to win the Kentucky Derby.
The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby brings to life a vivacious hero from a little-known chapter of American sports history. Readers are transported trackside to witness the heart-pounding story of a vibrant young man chasing down his dream
If there was anything in the world better than playing baseball, Marcenia Lyle didn't know what it was. As a young girl in the 1930s, she chased down fly balls and stole bases, and dreamed of one day playing professional ball.
With spirit, spunk, and a great passion for the sport, Marcenia struggled to overcome the objections of family, friends, and coaches, who felt a girl had no place in the field. When she finally won a position in a baseball summer camp sponsored by the St. Louis Cardinals, Marcenia was on her way to catching her dream.
Full of warmth and youthful energy, Catching the Moon is the story of the girl who grew up to become the first woman to play for an all-male professional baseball team. Readers everywhere will be inspired by her courage to dream and determination to succeed.
|ETC: How do you choose the subjects of your books?
HUBBARD: It would be more accurate to say that the subjects of my books choose me, not the other way around. So many people and things interest me, but the ones I can't turn away are the ones that stay with me long after I've left them. Marcenia Lyle, the subject of my first children's book, Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball Dream was such a subject. I first heard of Marcenia Lyle on Ken Burns's documentary, Baseball. That brief mention of her sent me to the library to learn all I could about her. It took five years to get that book into print, and every second was worth it because the book turned out beautifully.
Jimmy Winkfield, the subject of my second book, was given to me by my editor, Jennifer Fox. I knew of the prevalence of African-American jockeys in the history of American horse racing, but I hadn't known how truly amazing the lives of these athletes were. Jimmy Winkfield, the last black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, reached the highest echelons of his sport. His life was fascinating, and once I learned more about him, I knew that I had to write about him.
My next book is about Arthur Ashe. He's the most well-known athlete I've written about. I typically like to tell the stories of figures who are lesser known, but I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ashe twice when I was a kid. He had a tremendous influence on me, so when I got the chance to tell his story, I took it.
ETC: Why is it important to you to tell the stories you've chosen?
HUBBARD: I have four children, and they all know about Jackie Robinson, Elizabeth Blackwell, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Ghandi, Marian Anderson, Benjamin Banneker, Nellie Tayloe Ross, Thurgood Marshall, Mae Carol Jemison, Ruby Bridges and Kim Ng, to name just a few of the men and women who were the first to cross racial or gender barriers in their fields. Marcenia Lyle, Jimmy Winkfield and Arthur Ashe, like the people mentioned previously, came from humble backgrounds and they kept reaching for their dreams until they grabbed hold of them. They didn't let obstacles bar their paths to success. If something got in their way, they simply forged a new path for themselves. That's the kind of courage and ingenuity that my children can learn from and be inspired by. I want every child to know about people just like them who made of their lives what they wanted to, so that's why I write the books that I do.
ETC: What books do your children like to read?
HUBBARD: I started reading to each of my children when they were only a few months old, and I read everything to them-nursery rhymes, the Classics, fairy tales, cookbooks, fantasy, science fiction. Everything. I think it's important to expose children to a little bit of everything. My son is twelve now, and he likes books about sports and sci-fi/fantasy. He's a big fan of Rick Riordan, Lemony Snicket, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling.
My oldest daughter is seven, and she loves the Junie B. Jones, Cam Jansen Mysteries and Encyclopedia Brown books, but she also adores Faith Ringgold, Christopher Myers, Kadir Nelson and Eric Carle. She likes art as much as she likes reading, so she's attracted to books that combine the two very well.
My two youngest are two and four, and they both like anything with food or animals. They especially like it when I read cookbooks to them.
ETC: Which authors did you most enjoy as a child?
HUBBARD: Mark Twain, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, the Brontė sisters, Lois Lowry, Madeleine L'Engle, Charles Dickens and C.S. Lewis were my favorites. I used to read Tom Sawyer over and over again. I enjoyed any book that pulled me into a different time or place, or made me laugh.
ETC: When and why did you start writing?
HUBBARD: I was a fairly lonely kid raised by a single parent. My mother was a teacher, so we didn't have a lot of money. I didn't have very many friends, so books became my ink and paper companions. I am one of six daughters, so I always had company at home. Even so, I often felt like I was alone in the world. I was about nine years old when I started writing down my thoughts about the sadness I felt inside. By putting my feelings on paper, I felt like I was getting them out of my head and my heart. I always felt better afterward. All the rest of my writing came from my journaling. I wrote my first fiction when I was ten. It was a play called Disco Cleopatra, and it was ridiculous. It was about a teenage Cleopatra's adventures trying to meet teenage Marc Antony at a roller disco skating rink.
ETC: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to be a writer?
HUBBARD: No two authors take the same path to publication, but all published authors have a few things in common. They all had a story they wanted to tell, they wrote it, and they submitted it to editors at publishing houses. The best advice I was given came from Jon Scieszka, the author of one of my favorite books, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. He told me to write the story of my heart. Whether it's a biography, retellings of popular fairy tales, poetry, fiction or even a story all in pictures, your work should mean something to you. Whether the story is happy or sad, stormy or sunny, put your heart into it, and readers will be attracted to that. They'll love your story because you do.
ETC: What are you dying to tell us that no one has ever asked you?
HUBBARD: No one has ever asked me who my favorite author is. I'm often asked about my favorite books, and I can provide a list of a couple hundred titles. My favorite author is Rod Serling. He created The Twilight Zone series, and he wrote many of the episodes. He was also the mastermind behind Night Gallery, although The Twilight Zone is far and away one of the most intelligent, insightful, thought-provoking, forward thinking television shows ever.