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Cheryl Willis Hudson

Children’s book publisher and author Cheryl Willis Hudson was born on April 7, 1948 in Portsmouth, Virginia to Hayes Elijah Willis, III, an insurance executive, and Lillian Watson Willis, an educator. Hudson attended Oberlin College and graduated cum laude in 1970. The following summer, she enrolled in a summer publishing procedures course at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the fall of 1970, Hudson began working as an art editor in the educational division of Houghton Mifflin in Boston. She and Wade Hudson, a writer, met in Cambridge in 1971 and began collaborating on children’s book ideas. In 1972, she and Hudson were married, and they subsequently moved to New Jersey to live while Wade was enrolled in Channel 13’s film and television training program in New York City. Cheryl continued her career as a graphic designer at Macmillan Publishing Company in New York City and at Arete Publishing in Princeton, New Jersey.

In 1976 the Hudsons first child, Katura, was born and after failing to obtain African American art to ornament her nursery’s walls, Hudson decided to create her own designs. Ultimately, she was inspired to create a children’s book, and although she and Hudson attempted to shop it around to various publishing companies, they were unsuccessful. In 1982, Hudson again gave birth to the couple's second child, Stephan J. Hudson, and three years later, the couple again revived their idea of creating African American children’s art.

In 1985, the Hudsons developed the AFRO-BETS kids, black characters who would twist themselves into the shape of the alphabet. Two years later, after further rejections from various publishers, they invested $7,000 and self-published it. The couple received attention from leading education magazines and black bookstores, which carried the books. After the AFRO-BETS books sold out within three months, the Hudsons founded Just Us Books, Inc., an independent publishing company that publishes books and educational material for children that focus on black history, experiences and culture.

Cheryl Hudson handled the editorial aspects, while her husband served as president of the company, managing the business and marketing aspects. As director of editorial operations she works with authors and artists, and has helped many young aspiring book creators get their start in the publishing industry.

In 1990, Just Us Books, Inc. introduced a bi-monthly newspaper for young people entitled Harambee, which would later win a parent’s choice award. Throughout the 1990s, Just Us Books continued to publish critically acclaimed children’s literature, including Bright Eyes, Brown Skin, Jamal’s Busy Day, Annie’s Gifts, When I Was Little, Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs and Kid Caramel, the first contemporary mystery series to focus on young, black male characters. In 1997, Income Opportunities Magazine named the Hudsons “Small Business Pioneers of the Year.” In 2004, they began the Sankofa Books imprint, which publishes Black classics for children and young adults that are no longer in print.

Hudson is an award-winning author of more than twenty books for children. They include Bright Eyes, Brown Skin, Hands Can, the What A Baby series, Many Colors of Mother Goose, Come By Here, Lord, Everyday Prayers for Children and Langston’s Legacy. A graphic artist, Hudson has designed a number of books published by Just Us Books.

When she’s not writing, editing or art directing children’s books, Hudson is active in her community and publishing industry organizations. She serves on the advisory boards of the Small Press Center and the Langston Hughes Library at the Alex Haley Farm, operated by the Children’s Defense Fund. She is also a member of the Author’s Guild, PEN America and the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators. Among her accolades are the Stephen Crane Award and induction into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent in 2003. Hudson also serves as a diversity and parenting expert for ClubMom.com.

Hudson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 28, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.174

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/28/2007

Last Name

Hudson

Maker Category
Middle Name

Willis

Occupation
Schools

I.C. Norcom High School

Oberlin College

Radcliffe College

Mount Hermon Preschool Center

Northeastern University

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Weekends

First Name

Cheryl

Birth City, State, Country

Portsmouth

HM ID

HUD04

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Parents, Teachers, Librarians, Students interested in children's books and literature.

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $500 - $1,000

Favorite Season

Fall

Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: Parents, Teachers, Librarians, Students interested in children's books and literature.

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Beaches

Favorite Quote

Go With The Flow.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New Jersey

Birth Date

4/7/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

East Orange

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli

Short Description

Fiction writer Cheryl Willis Hudson (1948 - ) published children's books. Hudson was the co-founder of Just Us Books, Inc. and the developer of AFRO-BETS kids. She was the publisher of Bright Eyes, Brown Skin, Good Morning Baby, Good Night Baby and Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs.

Employment

Just Us Books, Inc.

Hudson Publishing Group

Houghton Mifflin Co.

Macmillan Publishers USA

Favorite Color

Mauve

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Cheryl Willis Hudson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Cheryl Willis Hudson lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes the community of Charlottesville, Virginia

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her mother's family background, pt. 3

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her neighborhood in Portsmouth, Virginia, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her neighborhood in Portsmouth, Virginia, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Cheryl Willis Hudson remembers dinners with her family

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes the African American community in Portsmouth, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes Mount Hermon Elementary School in Portsmouth, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Cheryl Willis Hudson remembers desegregation in Portsmouth, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her extracurricular activities

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Cheryl Willis Hudson remembers her high school science fair

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her decision to attend Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her experiences at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her experiences at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her experiences at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Cheryl Willis Hudson remembers the Civil Rights Movement in Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her mother's civic involvement

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Cheryl Willis Hudson recalls her graduation from Oberlin College

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her political and civil rights affiliations

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Cheryl Willis Hudson remembers the books she read at Oberlin College

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Cheryl Willis Hudson talks about the importance of African American studies

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her role as art editor at the Houghton Mifflin Company

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Cheryl Willis Hudson recalls working as a senior designer at Macmillan Publishing Company

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Cheryl Willis Hudson talks about racial stereotyping in textbooks

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her decision to found Just Us Books, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Cheryl Willis Hudson recalls the publication process for the 'AFRO-BETS ABC Book'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Cheryl Willis Hudson recalls the early years of Just Us Books, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Cheryl Willis Hudson recalls her initial successes at Just Us Book, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Cheryl Willis Hudson reflects upon her publications at Just Us Books, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her community's support for Just Us Books, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Cheryl Willis Hudson lists Just Us Books, Inc.'s awards

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes the distribution of Just Us Books, Inc. publications

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her plans for the future of Just Us Books, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Cheryl Willis Hudson talks about black authors and illustrators of children's book

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Cheryl Willis Hudson reflects upon her challenges at Just Us Books, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Cheryl Willis Hudson describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Cheryl Willis Hudson reflects upon successful children's books

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Cheryl Willis Hudson remembers children's books from her childhood

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Cheryl Willis Hudson narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$3

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
Cheryl Willis Hudson recalls the early years of Just Us Books, Inc.
Cheryl Willis Hudson describes her experiences at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, pt. 2
Transcript
What made you think you could do it, if you hadn't seen it being done by another? Like, there are no one else publishing black children's books. What do you think it is that made you think that the two of you could pull it off?$$Well, I you know, I think it was gradually thing, I don't think, I, I think that once--well, once we had printed the, the 'AFRO-BETS ABC Book' [Cheryl Willis Hudson], we started getting calls for more. We had to print more, I mean it was a flurry of activities I mean people wanted this book. Say well people of color, yeah, everybody wants this book. How many black people are there in the country, how many of them have kids that don't know their ABCs or want an alphabet book? So, I think we, we thought that there's a, a huge possibility. And then we started getting some more reinforcement from the few the people that we knew who were involved in, in publishing. We met with [HistoryMaker] Marie Brown who was our agent for a while. And she said, "Oh this is fantastic, this is, this is wonderful." We met with someone, she had worked with who is deceased now, Glenn Thompson, who had also started a publishing company, around that same time, Black Butterfly press [Black Butterfly Children's Books]. And he thought we were crazy, he said, "This is beautiful but how can you make any money," you know, but we got some reinforcement from people in the industry, and just started studying it a lot more systematically.$$What would Marie Brown, what could Marie Brown do for you, the agent? Why would you need an agent, if you're a publisher?$$Well, because we weren't a publisher at the time that we first knew Marie (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay.$$We, we were looking to her, to say, "Well Marie here's some other ideas that we have, can you place them with publisher?" And she was one of the few black agents at that time, in, in New York [New York]. And she had all of the contacts too, of, of knowing people at Doubleday [Doubleday and Company Inc.; Knopf Doubleday Publishing Company] and all the other publishing houses. But, again when you're dealing with institutions who have not been doing this, they've not had a, a, a series of black characters, maybe there's one book with one black child in it. And if there's some resistance, like there's no market for it. Why would be there be any incentive for a Random House [Random House Inc.; Penguin Random House] or anybody else to buy our book, if they don't think there's a market for it anyway. So, part of it is kind of informing the industry that there, yes there is a market for these books. But, in the meantime I can't wait for you to decide to make up your mind for somebody, for us to convince you of it. We sort of had to prove that the market was there and I think we did that, by getting so much positive feedback on both the 'AFRO-BETS ABC Book,' '123 Book' ['AFRO-BETS 123 Book,' Cheryl Willis Hudson], but also particularly Wade's [HistoryMaker Wade Hudson] book with Valerie [Valerie Wilson Wesley], 'Book of Black Heroes from A to Z' ['Book of Black Heroes from A to Z: An Introduction to Important Black Achievers for Young Readers,' Wade Hudson and Valerie Wilson Wesley], which as a, a another again a different kind of book. Not a book just on George Washington Carver, but a book of black heroes. And we didn't call them, here's a biography of the African Americans, there's a difference between that and saying book of black heroes, because these people were heroes to us. So, their perspective was a little bit different. And so, the, they're subtleties that you will find in the difference in approach to, to publishing that we took verses maybe a more commercial publisher.$And you're just gonna wrap up that summer experience?$$The summer experience at Exeter [Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire] was wonderful. I was, I had been away from home before. I had gone to Howard [Howard University, Washington, D.C.] one summer. I had gone to Norfolk State [Norfolk Branch, Virginia State College; Norfolk State University, Norfolk, Virginia] one summer. But, this was different because this was New Hampshire. It was New England, I was living in a, a dormitory with other white kids. Kids who really were a, a lot of them were from a different social class, an upper class kids. There were a few black students on campus during the summer. But, again it, it was a mutual- mutually beneficial kind of experience because I think on, on a social level if you get to know someone by living with them, by talking with them, by having meals together. You have a different perception of, of them rather than just seeing somebody on, the news, so you recognize one another as, as individuals, as, as human beings rather than as a white person or a black person, or somebody who's integrating a situation in a social context. I really enjoyed it (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) So, that was nineteen--$$That was 1966.$$The summer--