Julius Lester


Q: Why did you decide to become a writer?

A: I write because there is something I want to know and the only way I can find out is to write about it. I wrote TO BE A SLAVE because I wanted to know what it was like to have been a slave and I couldn't find a book that really told me. So, I suppose I write because I have questions I need answers to, and the only way to find the answers is to write my way into them.

Q. Where do you get your ideas for your books?

A. I don't get ideas as much as I get a feeling and want to know more about that feeling. I spend a lot of time wondering what it's like to be someone I see on the street, or what it was like to have been alive at a certain time in history, or what it's like to have something happen to you. Writing comes as much from the heart as it does the head.

Q. Do you make a lot of money?

A. The majority of writers do not make a lot of money from writing. If you want to make a lot of money, you shouldn't be a writer.

Q. Do you enjoy writing?

A. Yes, but writing is very, very hard work. When I am working on a book I write about three hours a day and if I write three pages in that three hours, that is a good day's work. Writing is hard because you must rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. There are pages in some of my books that were rewritten more than 20 times. You must rewrite until the words say exactly what you want them to say. That is not as easy as it may sound.

Q. Do you use a computer when you write?

A. Yes! I love computers!!

Q. Do you have children?

A. I have five children, three female and two male. Since my children value their privacy, I will omit their names but one lives in New York City, one teaches in Washington, D.C. and another lives in Denver, Colo., one lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., and one lives in Jerusalem, Israel. They have blessed me with 6 grandchildren.

Q. What are your hobbies?

A. Photography, digital art. I used to collect American, Israeli and United Nation stamps but I haven't done that in a while.

Q. What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?

A. Read, read, read. It is important to know what others have written. It is important to learn the possibilities of things to write about and the ways to write about them. There is no substitute for reading everything you can. My other piece of advice is to repeat what I said above. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Selected Works

Folk Tales
The Last Tales of Uncle Remus. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1994. (Out of print)
The last volume in the retellings of the Uncle Remus tales.
When the Beginning Began, illustrated by Emily Lisker, 1999. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
Traditional retellings and original stories around the creation story in Genesis
Long Journey Home, 1972 (Dial Books For Young Readers)
Short stories based on true stories from Black history.
This Strange New Feeling, 1982 (Scholastic Paperbacks)
Three love stories based on true stories from slavery.
Do Lord Remember Me, 1984
A novel inspired by my father's life
And All Our Wounds Forgiven, 1994.
A novel about the civil rights movement and suggested by the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Othello: A Novel, 1995 (Point)
A novelization of the Shakespeare play.
Pharaoh's Daughter: A Novel, 2000. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
A story about the young Moses growing up in ancient Egypt.
When Dad Killed Mom, 2001. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
A novel about what happens to a brother and sister when their father murders their mother.
The Autobiography of God, 2004, (St. Martin's Press)
A novel that probes the question why evil can exist if God is omnisicient, omnipresent, and All-Good.
Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue, 2005, (Hyperion Books)
A novel in dialogue about the largest slave auction in American history.
Time's Memory 2006 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
A novel about an nyama (spirit) that comes to the United States on a slave ship.
Cupid: A Novel, (Harcourt, January, 2007)
A retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche.
Poetry and Photography
Lovesong:Becoming A Jew, 1988 (Bullfinch Press)
Story of my spiritual odyssey to Judaism.
On Writing for Children and Other People, 2005 (Dial Books)
A literary memoir discussing the relationship between my life and my writing
Picture Book
John Henry. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1994. (Dial Books for Young Readers)
The first picture book collaboration with Jerry Pinkney
Shining, Illustrations by John Clapp, 2003 (Harcourt Books)
A fable about what a young girl learns from silence.
Let's Talk About Race. Illustrated by Karen Barbour 2005 (Harper Collins/Amistad)
A book in which I talk personally about race and how to think about it. Wonderful illustrations by Karen Barbour.