Hudson, Cheryl and Wade
Wade and Cheryl Hudson
Publishers; authors, entrepeneurs
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In less than a decade, Wade and Cheryl Hudson created a successful book publishing company, Just Us Books, which publishes, markets, and distributes six to eight titles each year. Specializing in children’s books and learning materials that portray African Americans, Just Us Books is a leader in meeting the needs of this market segment. Measured in financial terms, the success of Just Us Books is noteworthy. The company grossed more than one million dollars in sales in 1995 and after only eight years had more than three million books in print. Keeping in tune with the needs of readers, creating a quality product, and employing savvy marketing techniques are some of the Hudsons’s keys to success. “What sets us apart,” Hudson told Ernest Holsendolph of Emerge,”is that like many other small businesses, such as independent movie makers and recording companies, we are on the cutting edge of our business.”
Wade Hudson grew up in Mansfield, Louisiana, attending a school whose library was made up of discarded books from all-white schools. Though the books did not speak to him as an African American, Wade read avidly and grew up to become a writer and public relations specialist. While visiting Boston one summer, the 22-year old Hudson met Cheryl Willis, an artist and illustrator who was attending a publishing course at Radcliffe University. They were married, pursued their careers, and raised a family.
After their daughter Katura was born, the Hudsons unsuccessfully looked for African American art to adorn the walls of the nursery. Instead, Cheryl painted letters that looked like African American children to decorate the nursery. This inspired her to create an alphabet book of the same design titled Afro-Bets ABC. They submitted the book to New York publishers but were told that no market existed for the product. Believing that a viable market did exist, the Hudsons took a gamble. “We asked, “Why not do it ourselves,’” Wade recalled to Nick Sullivan of Home Office Computing. Using their savings, they made an agreement with a typesetter and printer to publish a limited run of 5,000 copies. When they sold out within three months, Just Us Books was launched. “It was the best move we could have made, an important step. Instead of waiting for someone else to make
At a Glance…
Wade Hudson, born October 23, 1946, in Mansfield, LA; son ofWadeand Lurline (Iones) Hudson; married Cheryl Willis (apublisherand writer), June24,1972; children: Katura, Stephan.Education: Attended Southern University and AgriculturalandMechanicalCollege, 1964-68.Politics: Democrat Religion: Baptist.
Author, editor, playwright, publisher. Worked as a public relationsspecialistatEssexCountyCollege, Kean College, and the Newark, New Jersey Board of Education; cofounderofJust Us Books, Orange, NJ, 1987-.
Cheryl Hudson (maiden name, Wi11is), bom in Portsmouth, VA; daughterof Hayes Elija III (an insurance executive) and Lillian (an educator; maiden name, Watson) Willis. Education: Oberlin College, B.A.; post-graduatework at Northeastern University. Religion; Baptist
Author, editor, designer, publisher. Worked asan arteditorfor HoughtonMifflin, Boston, MA; design manager, Macmillan Publishing, New York, NY; assistantart director, Arete Publishing, Princeton, NJ; freelance artdirector, graphicdesigner, and design consultant; cofounderof Just Us Books, Orange, NJ, 1987-.
Awards: Ben Franklin Award, 1991,for Bright Eyes, Brown Skin; top 25 books in multicultural reading, Boston Globe, spring 1992, for Jamal’s Busy Day; National Council of Social Studies selection Jamal Busy Day, 1992; Excellence Award, Multicultural Publishers Exchange, 1992, for Jamal’s Busy Day; “Best-selling children’s book series,“Black Board of the American Booksellers Association, 1995, forthe Afro-Bets series.
Addresses: Home—202 Dodd St., East Orange, NY 07017.Office— 301 Main St., Orange, NJ 07050.
decisions for us, we decided to control our own fate. “By 1997 Afro-Bets ABC Book had sold more than 220,000 copies.
The couple divides the work amongst themselves and their small staff. As president, Wade manages the business aspects of the company, such as marketing, while in the capacity of publisher, Cheryl handles such editorial aspects as coordinating writers and illustrators and developing the final product. The Hudsons are also the authors, compilers, or editors of many of their company’s books. “What distinguishes us from the majors,” Cheryl told Donna Whittingham-Barnes of Black Enterprise in 1989, “is that our products are designed to truly reflect black culture. Our children see black characters that are substantial and unique. They see themselves and their surroundings on the pages of our books.”
Since the mid-1980s, children’s book publishers have been responding, with varying success, to the need to publish books that ethnically reflect the diversity of American society, and the Hudsons’s success in filling this niche has made them sought after by “the majors.” “We didn’t just do a book with a black face, which is what some publishers have done,” Cheryl told Sullivan. “We pull from African American culture to make meaningful books.” She added, “We’ve also been able to combine educational value with entertainment and mass-market appeal.”
Large publishers such as Scholastic and HarperCollins have hired the Hudsons to act as consultants. They have packaged—that is prepared for publication—a dozen books that were published and marketed by Scholastic. According to Bernette Ford, vice president and editorial director at Cartwheel Books, a division of Scholastic, (as reported by Julie Lew in the New York Times) the Hudsons “really have the sensitivity and understanding of the African American market that you don’t often find at the major mainstream publishers.” Among their books for Scholastic are collective biographies of African American inventors and explorers and anthologies of music and poetry.
For example, Sweet the Sound is a compilation of 23 songs with oil wash on board illustrations, includes traditional spirituals, protest songs, street cries, and popular soul tunes, accompanied by information about the composers.Pass It On is a collection of 19 poems for ages five to eight by such renowned poets as Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Lucille Clifton.Hold Christmas in Your Heart is a compilation of 16 stories, songs, and poetry that celebrates the holiday season.
The Just Us Books catalog features books for all ages, from preschool to young adult. Examples of the varied offerings include the Afro-Bets line of books for children ages two to six, which also includes activity books, vocal and instrumental music cassette tapes, and a kids club, to promote self-esteem through “fun-filled learning tools.”The Afro-Bets Book of Black Heroes from A to Z, Volume I and Book of Black Heroes, Volume II: Great Women in the Struggle spotlight the lives and accomplishments of more than 100 African Americans. The first volume has proven to be one of the company’s most popular books, with more than 300,000 copies sold. The second volume sold more than 75,000 copies, won a Multicultural Publishers Exchange Book Award of Excellence, and was reviewed on the popular PBS television show Reading Rainbow.
In response to librarians’ and educators’ requests for books with black boys as central characters and the popularity of other series books aimed at middle-school readers, the Hudsons developed the Black Dinosaurs and NEATE series. The Black Dinosaur books follow the adventures of four boys-Ziggy, Rico, Jerome, and Rashawn-who have formed a Black Dinosaur club, while the NEATE series revolves around the activities of five junior high school friends: Naimah, Elizabeth, Anthony, Tayesha, and Eddie.
The Hudsons try to make every book a best seller. “With so few titles you must squeeze as much revenue as you can from each project,” Wade told Holsendolph. They market their list directly to some 400 African American owned bookstores nationwide. In addition to encouraging black owners of bookstores to join together as cooperatives to buy in volume, they have approached the large chains. Initially Wade would contact a corporate office and find out who was in charge of buying children’s books. Then he would follow up with review copies and later telephone calls. In 1990, he landed the company’s first large distribution deal, with Toys ’R Us, which ordered nearly $40,000 worth of books. To increase their visibility and prove their credibility, the Hudsons took out large advertisements in various publications, among them Publishers Weekly, the New York Times Book Review, and Schoo/Library Journal.
Though costly, advertisements put the Just Us Books name in the minds of potential buyers. Similarly, a small event can create a snowball effect. After the Hudsons displayed their books at a Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, an employee of the local Target store expressed interest in the books and showed them to the chain’s corporate buyer. Target was interested, but “because they buy only from distributors, the buyer turned us on to Levy, the dealer they use,” explained Wade to Carol Milano of Black Enterprise.”Now Levy buys from us and will get our books into other chains, too. Our target is nationwide, so we got hooked up with their other regional distributors also.”
When the Hudsons decided to do a treasury for the whole family, something that parents and children could enjoy together, they had no trouble finding material.In Praise of Our Fathers and Our Mothers brings together 49 works-poems, paintings, interviews, memoirs, and illustrations from various writers and artists-that celebrate the African American family. Wade told M. Dion Thompson of the Baltimore Sun,”True, there are so many problems that the black family is involved with, but we feel from our experience that the black family is also strong. We are telling our story about the positive influence that our family has had in our lives. “He further asserted, “Families need not be perfect to be successful in nurturing children to adulthood. Most parents do the routine and normal things every day. They work and they try to provide their children with the little extras in life.”
Both Wade and Cheryl Hudson are advocates of diversity in literature. They conduct workshops and make presentations across the country on such topics as publishing multicultural books, marketing black interest books, and curriculum development. “One can never take any image for granted,” Wade stated in an interview with CBB.”Images, whether in print, film, television, or on stage, are constantly shaping the way we feel and what we think and believe. This is particularly crucial to the African American community which has been deliberately given negative images of its history and culture. I find it rewarding to help reshape and change those negative images to reflect truth. I think the struggle to present the correct images-the truth-is the most crucial one facing us all.”
(With Valerie Wilson Wesley)Afro-Bets Book of Black Heroes from A to Z.An Introduction to Important Black Achievers, Just Us Books, 1988.
Afro-Bets Alphabet Rap Song, Just Us Books, 1990.
Jamal’s Busy Day, Just Us Books, 1991.
Afro-Bets Kids: I’m Gonna Be! Just Us Books, 1992.
(With Debbi Chocolate)NEATE: To the Rescue, Just Us Books, 1992.
I Love My Family, Scholastic, 1993.
(Editor)Pass It On: African-American Poetry for Children, Scholastic, 1993.
(Compiler with wife)How Sweet the Sound, Scholastic, 1995.
(Editor with wife)Kids Book of Wisdom: Quotes from the African American Tradition, Just Us Books, 1996.
(Editor with wife)In Praise of Our Fathers and Our Mothers: A Black Family Treasury by Outstanding Authors and Artists, Just Us Books, 1997 .
Also author of the children’s book Beebe’s Lonely Saturday, New Dimension Publishing, and the stage plays Freedom Star, Macmillan, Sam Carter Belongs Here, The Return, A House Divided. . .,Black Love Story, and Dead End .
Afro-Bets ABC Book, Just Us Books, 1987.
Afro-Bets 123 Book, Just Us Books, 1987.
(With Bernette G. Ford)Bright Eyes, Brown Skin, Just Us Books, 1990.
Good Morning Baby, Scholastic, 1992.
Good Night Baby, Scholastic, 1992.
(Compiler) Hold Christmas in Your Heart, Cartwheel,1995.
(Compiler)Hold Christmas in Your Heart, Scholastic,
Contributor of poems and illustrations to Ebony Jr! and Wee Wisdom. Designer and art director for graphic novels series, Pink Flamingos, Simon and Schuster.
Contemporary Authors, Volume 142, Gale (Detroit),1994.
Something About the Author, Volumes 74, Gale (Detroit), 1993 and Volume 81, 1995.
Baltimore Sun, March 1, 1997, p. 1D+.
Black Enterprise, December 1989, p. 24; March 1991, p. 21; November 1994, p. 100+.
Booklist, January 1, 1989, p. 788; January 15, 1993, p. 899; March 15, 1993, p. 1359; September 15, 1995, p. 170.
Emerge, October 1996, p. 26.
Essence, July 1991, p. 100; December 1992, p. 106.
Home Office Computing, September 1991, pp. 42-43.
New York Times, October 14, 1996, p. D7.
Publishers Weekly, December 6, 1991, p. 71; January 18, 1993, p. 471; May 17, 1993, p. 78; September 18, 1995, p. 98; January 20, 1997. p. 400.
School Library Journal, December 1988, p. 117; February 1992, p. 74; April 1993, p. 97; May 1993, p. 99; October 1995, p. 38; November 1995, p. 90.
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