NEW ORLEANS — Inspired by W.E.B. DuBois' 1903 essay "The Talented Tenth," a New Orleans writer has written a debut novel that earned her recognition with this year's Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.
Ladee Hubbard will be presented with the $10,000 award at a public ceremony in January for her work, "The Talented Ribkins." The book chronicles the travels of 72-year-old Johnny, who discovers his niece Eloise is the latest in the family to possess a peculiar gift. Her father who died before she was born had the ability to climb walls, while Johnny can make maps of places he's never seen. Others in the family can alter their appearance and spit fire.
When it emerges that Johnny and his family used to fight injustice alongside a man who ran so fast they called him Flash, and a woman with a right fist like a hammer, it becomes clear that with Eloise's own great power must also come great responsibility.
"Getting this honor is really, really wonderful," Hubbard told The Associated Press. "And, for my first novel. It's incredibly validating that's for sure. Every aspect of this recognition is really meaningful. It's named after Ernest Gaines and to be in the company of such other talented writers who've won it is truly amazing."
Hubbard, 47, was born in Massachusetts, raised in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands and currently lives in New Orleans with her husband and three children.
She has published short fiction and poems and has received fellowships from the Hambidge Center, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Hurston/Wright Foundation. She's a recipient of a 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award.
"I've always wanted to write," Hubbard said. "I really love it. I think it probably took a while for me to think of the possibility of writing as being realistic but it's always something I've done."
Currently, Hubbard is an adjunct lecturer in the Africana Studies program at Tulane University where she's teaching a course titled Afro-Futurism: Science Fiction and Surrealism in African-American Literature & Culture.
Hubbard said winning the Gaines award and prize will give her a chance to focus on her upcoming projects.
"I'm working on another novel, a historical novel that will require a lot of research," she said.
She said she's looking forward to receiving the award in January and possibly meeting Gaines.
"I just want to tell him how much I appreciate him and his work," she said.
The Gaines Award and its prize were created by a philanthropic group, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, to recognize outstanding work by rising African-American fiction writers and honor Gaines' extraordinary contributions to the literary world.
A Louisiana native, Gaines wrote the critically acclaimed novel "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," one of four of his works that were adapted for films. His 1993 novel "A Lesson Before Dying" won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
Crystal Wilkinson took home the award last year for "Birds of Opulence." Other winners include T. Geronimo Johnson for "Welcome to Braggsville;" Attica Locke for "The Cutting Season;" Stephanie Powell Watts for "We Are Taking Only What We Need;" and Dinaw Mengestu for "How to Read the Air."