Introducing #MWW24 Faculty Piper Huguley

Meet Piper Huguley

Piper G. Huguley’s biographical historical fiction, By Her Own Design: a novel of Ann Lowe, Fashion Designer to the Social Register (William Morrow Publishing) tells the inspiring story of the Black fashion designer of Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress. By Her Own Design was a Booklist top 100 Editor’s Choice selection for 2022, was named one of the top 100 books of 2022 in Canada by the Globe and Mail newspaper and was selected as the historical fiction winner for 2022 by the American Library Association’s Reading Council.

She is also the author of Sweet Tea by Hallmark Publishing and the author of two historical romance series: “Migrations of the Heart”, about the Great Migration and “Home to Milford College”. Her next historical fiction book, American Daughters (2024), is the story of the decades-long interracial friendship between Alice Roosevelt and Portia Washington, the rebel teenage daughters of President Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington, respectively. She is a literature professor at Clark-Atlanta University and blogs about the history behind her novels at . She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.

Dr. Huguley will be teaching “Characters Readers Can Touch” and “Writing About History” and participating in the panel, “Writing Across Genres.” She is also a member of the Manuscript Evaluation team.

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Q&A with Dr. Huguley

I was blown away when I read By Her Own Design and promptly bought a copy for my mother, who I know would love it, too. The story immerses me in the history of the time. Dr. Huguley is an authority in her subject matter and shares all of it on her blog, which is definitely worth checking out! I am looking forward to her sessions and hope these questions give a little teaser of what you can expect from them.

MWW: I love the idea of taking elements from a character’s childhood to inform their actions within the story. In tracing a character’s childhood, how do you make decisions on how those events shaped them as adults? Can you give us an example?

PH: I run the ACE test on all of my characters. In American Daughters, both Portia and Alice have scores of 6 of 10, very high. Four is the minimum number for the indication of childhood trauma. High ACE scores indicate the likelihood of a person’s adult life to be impacted with social or health risks. They both lived to be old ladies, but both of them were very young girls with deceased mothers, distant fathers and resentful stepmothers, and they made poor decisions in their later life that greatly impacted them. So yes, this is a 21st century measure placed upon historical characters but this measure did help me to dig more deeply into their characters and what the two of them might have bonded over in their secret interracial friendship.

MWW: I imagine there’s an expansive amount of research necessary to be able to include history as setting in a novel and situate your readers there comfortably. Where do you begin, and when do you know that you’ve gathered enough information to begin writing the story?

PH: Because I write about marginalized characters, I do understand that some of the traditional means of research are not available to me. I see the research process as a series of three concentric circles, with the outer circle researching the time (large events like wars, societies and movements), a middle circle (a particular historical event) and the target circle (the person). Any existing primary research is most important for that target circle. Secondary research comes into play with the outer and middle circles. Since I don’t write outside of my specialty time period, I pretty much have the outer circle known, so I move to obtaining as much as I can about a particular event and do as much primary research on that figure as is possible. If it’s not possible, then there may be a contemporary who grew up in that time and place who could give me more of a notion of what their live could look like. Honestly, when I have enough events to put together a story arc, I begin to write for a proposal (which is the traditional publishing process). The research still might continue at any point.

MWW: How do you find that your writing changes based on your audience, whether it’s historical fiction, historical romance, or even one of the history blogs that you write? 

PH: There is a difference in writing a book that features a real-life person as a protagonist versus historical romances that feature historical events like the Great Migration or the building of HBCUs. There is more freedom with the latter. My historical romances did not have to be fact-checked by a copy editor for instance. So there is quite a bit of difference. What does not change is the need to create a story line with a character that readers can emotionally connect with. That remains the same.

MWW: Who are some authors who have influenced and/or inspired you?

PH: Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Margaret Walker and Octavia Butler are all influences. I constantly read in my genre and am inspired by other historical fiction authors who are making new inroads in biographical historical fiction. Tananarive Due and Jewell Parker Rhodes are two more recent figures who inspired me to write the way that I do.


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