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Julius Lester (born January 27, 1939) is an American author of books for children and adults, and taught for 32 years (1971–2003) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is also a photographer, as well as a musician who recorded two albums of folk music and original songs.
Early life and family
Born on January 27, 1939, in St. Louis, Missouri, Julius Lester is the son of Rev. W.D. Lester, a Methodist minister, and Julia (Smith) Lester. The family moved to Kansas City, Kansas in 1941, and to Nashville, Tennessee,in 1952. In 1960 he received his BA from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee with a major in English and minors in Art and Spanish.
In 1961 he moved to New York City where he married Joan Steinau. They had two children, Jody Simone (1965) and Malcolm Coltrane (1967). The couple divorced in 1970. As of July 2012, Malcolm Lester is head of Grace Episcopal Day School in Kensington, Maryland.
New York years
During his New York years, Lester hosted a radio show on WBAI-FM (1968–1975), cohosted "Free Time" (with Jonathan Black), a television show on WNET-NY (Channel 13) for two years, taught a course on Afro-American history at the New School for Social Research, recorded two albums of traditional and original songs for Vanguard Records, Julius Lester (1966) and Departures (1967). A compilation of songs from both albums was released on a CD, Dressed Like Freedom, on Ace Records in 2007.
In 1971 he began teaching in the Afro-American Studies department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He remained in that department until 1988 when he became a member of the Judaic and Near Eastern Studies department, where he remained until his retirement at the end of 2003. During his 32 years at the university, Lester taught courses in five departments: Comparative Literature ("Black and White Southern Fiction"), English ("Religion in Western Literature"), Afro-American Studies ("The Writings of W. E. B. Du Bois"), ("Writings of James Baldwin"), ("Literature of the Harlem Renaissance"), ("Blacks and Jews: A Comparative Study"), and Judaic Studies ("Biblical Tales and Legends") and ("The Writings of Elie Wiesel"), History ("Social Change and the 1960s"), one of the university's largest and most popular courses. He was awarded all three of the university's most prestigious faculty awards: the Distinguished Teacher's Award, the Faculty Fellowship Award for Distinguished Research and Scholarship, and the Chancellor's Medal,the university's highest honor. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education selected him as the Massachusetts State Professor of the Year 1986.
Since 1968 Lester has written 43 books: 8 nonfiction, 30 children's books, one book of poetry and photographs (with David Gahr), and three adult novels. His very first book was an instructional book on how to play the 12-string guitar, co-authored with Pete Seeger. Among the awards his books have received are the Newbery Honor, Boston-Globe Horn Book Award, Coretta Scott King Award, National Book Award finalist, ALA Notable Book, National Jewish Book Award finalist, National Book Critics Circle Honor Book, and the New York Times Outstanding Book Award. His books have been translated into 8 languages.
He has published more than 200 essays and book and film reviews for such publications as The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times Op-Ed page, The Boston Globe, Village Voice, The New Republic, Moment, Forward and Dissent.
His photographs have been included in an exhibit of images from the civil rights movement at the Smithsonian Institution. He has had solo shows at the University of Massachusetts Student Union Gallery, the Forbes Library, Northampton, Mass., Valley Photo Center, Springfield, Mass., and the Robert Floyd Photography Gallery, Southampton, Mass.
List of Works
- The Folksinger's Guide to the 12-String Guitar as Played by Leadbelly (co-author Pete Seeger) (1965)
- Look Out, Whitey! Black Power Gon' Get Your Mama (1968)
- To Be A Slave (1968)
- Search for the New Land (1969)
- Revolutionary Notes (1969)
- Black Folktales (1969)
- The Seventh Son: The Thoughts and Writings of W.E.B. DuBois (1971)
- Two Love Stories (1972)
- Long Journey Home (1972)
- The Knee-High Man and Other Tales, Illustrations by Ralph Pinto (1972)
- Who I Am, photographs by David Gahr (1974)
- All is Well (1976)
- This Strange New Feeling (1982)
- Do Lord Remember Me (1984)
- The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (1987)
- Lovesong: Becoming a Jew (1988)
- More Tales of Uncle Remus: Further Adventures of Brer Rabbit, His Friends, Enemies, and Others, Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (1988)
- How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have and other Tales, Illustrations by David Shannon (1989)
- Further Tales of Uncle Remus: The Misadventures of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Brer Wolf, the Doodang, and Other Creatures, Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (1990)
- Falling Pieces of the Broken Sky (1990)
- The Last Tales of Uncle Remus, Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (1994)
- The Man Who Knew Too Much, Illustrations by Leonard Jenkins (1994)
- And All Our Wounds Forgiven (1994)
- John Henry, Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (1994)
- Othello: A Novel (1995)
- Sam and the Tigers, Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (1996)
- From Slaveship to Freedom Road, paintings by Rod Brown (1998)
- Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story, Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (1998)
- What a Truly Cool World, Illustrations by Joe Cepeda (1999)
- When the Beginning Began, Illustrations by Emily Lisker (1999)
- Albidaro and the Mischievous Dream, Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (2000)
- Pharaoh's Daughter: A Novel (2000)
- The Blues Singers: Ten Who Rocker the World, Illustrations by Lisa Cohen (2001)
- When Dad Killed Mom (2001)
- Ackamarackus: Julius Lester's Sumptuously Silly Fantastically Funny Fables, Illustrations by Emilie Chollat (2001)
- Why Heaven is Far Away, Illustrations by Joe Cependa (2002)
- Shining, Illustrations by John Clapp (2003)
- The Autobiography of God (2004)
- Let's Talk About Race, Illustrations by Karen Barbour (2005)
- On Writing for Children and Other People (2005)
- Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue (2005)
- The Old African, Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (2005)
- Time's Memory (2006)
- Cupid: A Novel (2007)
- Guardian (2008)
- The Hungry Ghosts (2009)
- Newbery Honor, 1969, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1971 both for To Be a Slave
- Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1972, and National Book Award finalist, 1973, both for The Long Journey Home: Stories from Black History
- Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1973, for The Knee-high Man and Other Tales
- Coretta Scott King honor, 1983, for This Strange New Feeling, and 1988, for Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit
- Parents' Choice Story Book award, 1987, for The Tales of Uncle Remus, and 1990, for Further Tales of Uncle Remus
- Reading Magic Award, 1988, for More Tales of Uncle Remus
- Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, American Library Association Notable Book, and Caldecott Honor, all 1995, all for John Henry
- ALA Notable Book, 1996, for Sam and the Tigers.
- Coretta Scott King Award, 2006, for his novel Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue.
- Distinguished Teacher's Award, 1983–84
- Faculty Fellowship Award for Distinguished Research and Scholarship, 1985
- National Professor of the Year Silver Medal Award, Council for Advancement and Support of Education, 1985
- Massachusetts State Professor of the Year and Gold Medal Award for National Professor of the Year, Council for Advancement and Support of Education, both 1986
- Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, 1986-87.
- "Julius Lester". WorldCat.org. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
- "Julius Lester: biography". Scholastic. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
- "Julius Lester". HarperCollins. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
- Faculty, Judaic and Near Eastern Studies. "Julius Lester, professor emeritus". University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- "Coretta Scott King Author Awards". The African American Literature Book Club. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
- "Julius Lester." Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 51. Gale Group, 2003.
- Lester, Julius. Lovesong: Becoming a Jew, 1988.
- Oppenheimer, Joel. "The Soul that Wanders", The New York Times. January 31, 1988.
- Weisnstein, Natalie. "Julius Lester: There's no magic formula' for blacks and Jews," J. February 16, 1996.
- Official Site
- University of Massachusetts faculty page on Lester
- Manuscript collection, Special Collections, Jones Library, MA.