Media Seasons

Julius Lester

Invariably, as a librarian I am asked to suggest a best book for themes, such as multiculturalism or Earth Day or, as the case is for February– Black History Month.   I’ve always winced slightly at these requests because of the showcasing focus for just one short period of time, as if one book can encapsulate all the significance of a topic. 

I recall taking an African American literature course at state university in Pennsylvania in the mid 1980’s.  Most of the students were African Americans who were not lit majors.   Raised and looking the part of a WASP, even if my maiden name (Cline) was Jewish-sounding, I was asked more than once by my fellow classmates WHY I was taking the class?  They couldn’t seem to grasp that as a literature major and an aspiring educator, I might genuinely want to explore a cultural upbringing other than my own.  Sometimes it’s difficult to work outside the boxes we draw around ourselves and others. 

Julius Lester’s work does.  How many African Americans also practice the Jewish faith taken on as an adult?  Lester’s autobiographical texts offer incredibly varied experiences and thoughts about his own life that widened my sense of the world.   His life journey has been a long one through some of the most tumultuous civil rights times in the United States. 

Lester’s need to reclaim the power of story in plotlines and characters that have long been misunderstood and appropriated, whether decades (see the Uncle Remus stories or Sam and the Tigers: a retelling of the Little Black Sambo story) or hundreds of years (see Pharoah’s Daughter or Othello), underscores his talent.  His inventive creativity also provides us with new literary landscape in a title such as We Real Cool.

As one of the first participants of the Rutgers University Youth Literature and Technology post-graduate certificate program, I was lucky enough to enroll in Voice of the Author, wherein we studied just three authors’ works in depth and then maintained an ongoing threaded discussion with each for an extended part of the semester.  We could always count on Julius’s amazing graciousness but complete honesty.   

One of my favorite classmates expressed offense at Lester’s frank discussion of his view of women at earlier points in his life.  For those of my generation who grew up with Judy Blume’s characters and feminism, that was difficult to swallow, but not nearly as difficult as what my reading experience was  with To Be a Slave.   My greatest amazement is that Lester maintains his sensitivity to those who are caught in their own time when he seems to be able to float through time to explore powerfully strong dynamics and relationships. 

Lester’s blog postings are always just as thoughtful.  In a recent one he examines contemporary society’s demand for role models rather than heroes as he addresses the media fallout surrounding Olympian Michael Phelps.  As ne notes, he considers his blog postings to be a form of publishing, and so one posting typically takes him 1-2 hours to complete as he rewrites.  If only we all would use that amount of time and produce such thoughtful prose.    


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