A note from Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher, Inkandescent Women magazine — What a privilege it is to introduce our readers to professor Piper Huguley, author of a series of historical fiction novels that teach us about some of the amazing black women that history has not focused on. Case in point: Her current book, By Her Own Design. We meet Ann Lowe, the fashion designer to the social register who designed the world-famous wedding gown for Jackie Kennedy, among other prestigious accomplishments.
Please scroll down for our Q&A with Piper, whose goal is to make new inroads in the publication of historical romance by featuring African American Christian characters. Her first books are part of the Home to Milford College series, including Amazon bestsellers The Lawyer’s Luck, The Preacher’s Promise, The Mayor’s Mission, and The Representative’s Revolt. Her next series, Migrations of the Heart, follows the loves and lives of African American sisters during America’s most significant internal migration in the first part of the twentieth century. Click here to learn about all of her books.
Tell us about your career as a college professor: From UCLA, I got my BA in Political Science and Soviet Studies; University of Pittsburgh—MFA in Fiction Writing; Georgia State University—Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century United States Literature.
What inspired you to get this degree? I needed a job! I knew that my MFA would not be enough because I did not have publication credits at that time.
Do you love teaching? I do, but I’ve been doing it for more than 25 years without a sabbatical because I’m not tenure track. A sabbatical would be a great idea right about now!
Why did you decide to start writing fiction? I’ve been writing on and off since I was 12 years old and we had moved to an all-white neighborhood. My far too active mind believed the Klan would be on our front lawn with a burning cross. (They never came, and people were extremely kind). Still, I stayed inside the house the entire summer and wrote my first story—a royal romance called “The President’s Daughter and the King’s Wife.” This was the summer BEFORE Charles and Diana, so I had to do research where I racked up huge costs on our phone bill. Fortunately, I had two understanding and loving parents who encouraged my writing dreams.
Tell us about the impact your son has made on your writing career. My most recent “on” writing time in terms of writing fiction was when my son turned 10 and went to play football. I felt as if my time with him was taking a turn, and it would be ok to go back to writing — since the last clear memory I had was when my writing group had my baby shower ten years before that! I began to notice that when the time came to teach a text like Uncle Tom’s Cabin in my Nineteenth-Century United States Literature class, I had to give historical background to my students so that they could understand the text better. I began to wonder if I might not be able to give my HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and University) students a way to learn about history that also meant they could read more for pleasure. If they could read more about people like themselves and what they were doing at their age, I knew they would benefit from those role model examples. I knew that a historical romance powerhouse like Beverly Jenkins also wrote hotter historical romances. I did not want to intrude on her territory for readers; instead, I sought to carve out my own space with those two series.
Your books have earned many awards and honors. How do these important accolades make you feel — as a writer, a woman, and an educator? In my most recent period of writing, I decided to begin to write historically with historical romance because I wanted to present history in a fun way to my students, AND they were all reading Zane. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with reading Zane, but I wanted to show a different side in terms of “old-fashioned courtship.” So my two historical romance series revolved around two important but little-discussed events in Black history: the development of Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the Reconstruction period (Home to Milford College series) and the Great Migration, the largest internal migration in US history. (Migrations of the Heart). Two of the books in the Migrations of the Heart series, A Champion’s Heart (2013) and A Virtuous Ruby (2014), managed to final in the pre-published contest sponsored by Romance Writers of America — The Golden Heart. I wish I could say I saw benefits from those accolades. But, to be honest, as a rare Black finalist, I did not get any of the agent/editor attention that my other competitors received, so I’ve not talked about them as points of pride. In those years, the publishing industry was not ready for me or my version of history, so these books were self-published.
What led you to write the story of Ann Lowe? You mentioned that you were aware of this powerful woman and that you were surprised no one had written about her before. I was familiar as someone who always followed the Kennedys. However, it wasn’t until my editor tweeted about wanting a biographical historical fiction book as a submission that I looked her up to read more about her. Then I could see that her life story had clear biopic potential. It also helped that my paternal family came from the same area of Alabama that she did, so, having visited that area, I felt as if I had a jump start on understanding her background and who she was as a young Black girl growing up in that area. The author of her self-published biography felt that a Black author was necessary to write her life as historical fiction, and I agreed. The door was open.
Tell us more — including who else you plan to write. I’m contracted to write a book about the secret friendship of Portia Washington Pittman and Alice Roosevelt Longworth for Fall 2023. People probably remember that Portia’s father, the esteemed Black educator, and orator Booker T. Washington, was the first Black man to come to dinner at the White House shortly after Alice’s father, Theodore Roosevelt, became president in 1901. There was quite a terrible uproar about that diner, but these two women managed to become friends despite that. The next topic might be Black female artists (Portia was a trained classical musician).
Helping your students learn and grow as readers and fans of history motivates you. Tell us more about that. How are you making a change through your writing? How can other writers be part of this educational process? We must restore these untold stories to history. Some people may feel that a novel is not the way to do it. Still, history education is at a crisis point in this county, especially given all of the misunderstandings regarding CRT and the 1619 project. We have to start somewhere. These novels are a labor of love and take a long time to write, especially since I have a busy day job. Writers can support books like mine by purchasing them, using social media to spread the word about them, requesting them from their library, and uplifting the increasing number of Black women who are writing about unknown Black women in this way. Any light towards these books is much appreciated.
Why do you think so many amazing black women are not more well known? How can you help that to change? Black women have not been respected in the history of the United States. Look at how Kitty Kelley referred to her in her bestselling biography of Jackie Kennedy: the family seamstress. Ann Lowe was far more than a seamstress—she was a fashion designer for the haute couture. Where is the respect? I hope that my novel can be a starting point to including Ann Lowe and other overlooked Black women like her back into the historical fabric of this country.
Why is it so important that all students (young and older) know about the black women who made history? The history we’ve been taught in school is incomplete. People like to fuss about biopics and, by extension, historical fiction, but books like these make people want to know more about history that has not been taught to us. I call it “putting butts in seats in history classes,” which is not a bad thing.
- Website: http://piperhuguley.com
- Twitter: @piperhuguley
- Instagram: piper_huguley
- Facebook: Piper G Huguley