AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts Judaic and Near Eastern studies professor Julius Lester is receiving advance praise for his latest children’s book, "Black Cowboys, Wild Horses: A True Story."
Publisher’s Weekly says the book is "notable for the light it sheds on a fascinating slice of Americana," and concludes that it "is essential for anyone interested in the Wild West."
The book, which will be published this month by Dial Books for Young Readers, is based on the true story of Bob Lemmons, a former slave who tracked wild horses across the plains in the late 1800s. Lester says he was attracted to the story because of his love of the West and his fascination with Lemmons himself, "a figure who could capture a herd of wild horses by making them think he was a horse." The fact that Lemmons was black gave the story an added dimension, Lester says.
"I am a storyteller and America is rich in stories," says Lester. "Part of what I do as a writer is to give voice to the stories of blacks, many of whose stories have not been heard. Sometimes I feel like there are all these spirits of blacks inside me, people who never had the opportunity to tell their stories and they have chosen me to be their voice. Bob Lemmons was one."
The author of 28 books for both children and adults, Lester has received many awards during his career. His children’s book "John Henry" was selected as one of the top picture books of 1994 by U.S. News & World Report magazine, and was also named the Caldecott Honor Book and the recipient of the Boston Globe Horn Book Award. Also in 1994, Lester’s novel about the Civil Rights Movement, "And All Our Wounds Forgiven," was one of 25 books nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Lester has also received numerous honors for his teaching. These include the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award, plus a Gold Medal Award as Massachusetts Professor of the Year and a Silver Medal Award as National Professor of the Year, both from the national Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). He has also received the Chancellor’s Medal, the highest campus honor bestowed on individuals who have rendered exemplary and extraordinary service to the University.
Lester has been a member of the University faculty since 1971 and teaches courses in three departments – Judaic studies, English, and history.