- The Arts
It all began with the letter A.
Growing up, Laurel Davis Huber ’69’s favorite book was an illustrated compilation of children’s stories given to her by Florence Chaplin, her Grade 1 teacher at Lincoln School. Fascinated by the intricate pen and ink sketches and accompanying six-line verses, Huber returned again and again to Beginning With A, which told the stories of 26 imaginary young people with first names for each letter of the alphabet, from Alexander to Zita.
Once childhood was behind her, Huber, who learned to read at age three and honed her skills with her favorite stories, had relegated Beginning With A to a storage shelf where it stayed until, in a fit of procrastination, she picked it up again in June of 2006.
“A little over ten years ago I pulled out this book I loved so much, that I was so entranced by as a child, and I discovered something completely new about it that changed my life,” said Huber.
Sparked by curiosity, Huber discovered that the book’s author and illustrator, Pamela Bianco, was a child prodigy artist who showed her first exhibit at age 12 to international recognition. Bianco had published Beginning With A almost 30 years later, which left Huber with a persistent question that spurred a year of research: “Who was Pamela Bianco, and what had happened to her?”
Her quest to find those answers led her to locations across the world. From the New Yorker archives to an art gallery in London, from an antique bookshop in Carmel, California to yellowed letters at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana, she searched and searched until she found the story’s keystone.
“I loved the discovery process, the unravelling of the story, and thank goodness I did because it took over a year to discover that Bianco’s mother was, in fact, Margery Williams Bianco, best known as the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, one of the most beloved children’s books of all time,” said Huber.
That simple connection, once made, fanned the initial spark of curiosity and set it aflame. The result? After nearly 11 years of her life, and no fewer than seven different drafts, in 2017 Huber published her debut novel, The Velveteen Daughter, to rave reviews.
The critically acclaimed book, published by She Writes Press, centers around the true story of these two remarkable women, mother and daughter, as they navigate celebrity, careers, family, depression, love, art, writing, and life at large. Heralded by Library Journal as ". . . a masterpiece . . . incandescent, pitch-perfect, and destined for greatness,” The Velveteen Daughter was the winner of the 2017 Silver IPPY Award for Best First Book/Fiction, was one of only 20 titles selected for the Women’s National Book Association 2017 Great Group Reads, is a Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Pick, and was the winner of the prestigious 2017 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction.
Her success as a novelist seems to come as a pleasant, though not unexpected, surprise to Huber, who worked as a corporate newsletter editor, a communications director for a botanical garden, a high school English teacher, and a senior development officer for both an independent school and a college before dedicating herself to writing.
“I always thought to myself, ‘Oh, I’ll just find time to write later, after I retire, after I do this, after this happens,’” said Huber. “But this story just forced my hand. It was a total obsession. I learned so much— mostly that I’m more determined than I ever knew.” As for what’s next, Huber continues to write both novels and historical fiction and is open to whatever inspiration may come her way, on topics ranging from A to Z.
This piece was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of The Lincoln Magazine.