The Talented Ribkins

At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn’t have such problems: He’s got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it’s curtains for Johnny.

What may or may not be useful to Johnny as he flees is that he comes from an African-American family that has been gifted with super powers that are rather sad, but superpowers nonetheless. For example, Johnny’s father could see colors no one else could see. His brother could scale perfectly flat walls. His cousin belches fire. And Johnny himself can make precise maps of any space you name, whether he’s been there or not.

In the old days, the Ribkins family tried to apply their gifts to the civil rights effort, calling themselves the Justice Committee. But when their, eh, superpowers proved insufficient, the group fell apart. Out of frustration Johnny and his brother used their talents to stage a series of burglaries, each more daring than the last.

Fast forward a couple decades and Johnny’s on a race against the clock to dig up loot he’s stashed all over Florida.  His brother is gone, but he has an unexpected sidekick: his brother’s daughter, Eloise, who has a special superpower of her own.

Inspired by W. E. B. Du Bois’s famous essay “The Talented Tenth” and fuelled by Ladee Hubbard’s marvelously original imagination, The Talented Ribkins is a big-hearted debut novel about race, class, politics, and the unique gifts that, while they may cause some problems from time to time, bind a family together.


Here’s Ladee charming the heck out of America on Late Night with Seth Meyers:




LADEE HUBBARD is the winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Short Story. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Talented Ribkins is her first novel.

Winner of the 2017 Ernest J. Gaines Literary Prize!
Winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award!
Winner of the William Faulker — William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition!

“[A] rip-roaring adventure.”—Entertainment Weekly

“A quirky, bittersweet comedy, Hubbard’s novel offers an original perspective on the legacy of the civil rights movement… Crafts an irresistible idea of activists with de facto superpowers challenging the racist power structure of mid-20th century America.”—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Ladee Hubbard delivers a fascinating twist on DuBois’ notion of the Talented Tenth in her debut novel… The Talented Ribkins recalls Colson Whitehead’s first novel, The Intuitionist.”—Paste

“An entertaining coming-of-age story that flips the ‘magical Negro’ trope on its head… Inspired by a W.E.B. Du Bois essay, Hubbard delicately dissects race, class, and politics by calling on her characters to justify their actions beyond their well-meaning intentions.” —BUST

“[A] sly, pleasurable first novel.”—Newsday

“First-time novelist Ladee Hubbard has created a collection of misfits like no other in The Talented Ribkins… fascinating… Hubbard’s tale ultimately transcends race, class and time itself.”—Bookpage

“A marvel… exceptionally funny, tender and heartbreaking… The Talented Ribkins marks Hubbard as a writer to watch. This tale of self-revelation and recognizing one’s tribe is quite an arrival, filled with both a sense of discovery and hard-won wisdom.”—The Advocate

“Crafty and wistful…Hubbard weaves this narrative with prodigious skill and compelling warmth. You anticipate a movie while wondering if any movie could do this fascinating family…well, justice. To describe this novel, as someone inevitably will, as Song of Solomon reimagined as a Marvel Comics franchise is to shortchange its cleverness and audacity.” —KIRKUS, starred review

“Original and entertaining… The Talented Ribkins is Clark Kent disguised as Superman. It is a story of redemption and the power of family under the thin cover of a mask, cape and tights. And with Hubbard’s power of imagination, the novel is nothing short of super.” Lincoln Journal Star

The Talented Ribkins is a quest, a treasure hunt, an unearthing of the hopeful and terrible past in service of the future. Wry, with a deft sense of metaphor, Ladee Hubbard delivers a familiar yet uncharted America in which her characters need their superpowers just to survive.” —Stewart O’Nan, author of West of Sunset

The Talented Ribkins is a charming and delightful debut novel with a profound heart, and Ladee Hubbard’s voice is a welcome original.” —Mary Gaitskill, author of Bad Behavior and Veronica

“What a pleasure it was to take a road trip with The Talented Ribkins, a simultaneously gifted and flawed family, sharp-witted but prone to making utterly human errors. Ladee Hubbard has given us a fresh and original debut novel.”  —Jami Attenberg, author of All Grown Up

The Talented Ribkins is tender, inventive, sharp, funny, and smart, like going home for a family reunion and remembering mid-argument that your cousins have superpowers. The Ribkins’ various talents and the trouble those talents get them into and out of make this book a riveting read. Its attention to connection, forgiveness, and the problem of figuring out again and again what superpowers it might take to survive being a black family in America make it an important and wildly original debut.” —Danielle Evans, author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

“With The Talented Ribkins, Ladee Hubbard proves herself to be a rare talent who pops onto the scene fully formed as a writer of power and purpose. This is a heart-wrenching quest into the absurdity that is family. Like the best literary fantasies, The Talented Ribkins succeeds because the heart that beats at its center couldn’t be realer.” —Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day and Pym

“Ladee Hubbard’s The Talented Ribkins is a first novel of extraordinary confidence and panache. Brisk, funny, tender, scathing, the book is a road story with teeth, a secret history of those black Americans whom W. E. B. Du Bois called ’the talented tenth’—underground, in plain sight, sometimes both at the same time—superheroes of reality.” —Zachary Lazar, author of Sway