Julius Lester: Amherst

Julius Lester: Amherst

An award-winning and prolific author, Julius Lester published more than 40 works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays and literary criticism. Among his primary concerns were the African American experience in America and his personal journey through that terrain in search of religious identity.

Lester’s most notable writing included Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama, All is Well, and Lovesong: Becoming a Jew for adult readers, and the children’s books Sam and the Tigers and To Be a Slave, a Newbery Honor Book. His collaboration with Jerry Pinckney, The Old African, received Honors in the Massachusetts Book Awards.

His teaching career at UMass Amherst, where he was, for 32 years, a Professor of both History and Judaic & Near Eastern Studies, earned him numerous teaching and research awards. His tenure was, too, marked by some controversy owing to his criticism of the writer James Baldwin, which led to his break with the UMass Department of Afro-American Studies and which also prompted a thoroughgoing discussion about censorship on university campuses. The University Librarian selected Lester to be the featured speaker at the launch of Massachusetts Center for the Book, founded in Amherst, Massachusetts, in January of 2000.

Julius Lester, a writer of note and notable advocate for lifelong literacy, also remembered as an accomplished photographer, folk musician, civil rights activist, and radio/television talk show host, died at his home in Western Massachusetts in January 2018 at the age of 78.

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