Julius Lester

From Slaveship to Freedom Road, Paintings by Rod Brown, 1998

They took the sick and the dead and dropped them into the sea like empty wine barrels. But wine barrels did not have beating hearts, crying eyes, and screaming mouths.

I think often of those ancestors of mine whose names I do not know, whose names I will never know, those ancestors who saw people thrown into the sea like promises casually made and broken. It was primarily the youngest and strongest who survived the Middle Passage, that three month long ocean voyage from the western shores of Africa to the so-called New World. My ancestors might have been young when the slave ship left, but when it docked, they were haunted by memories of kinsmen tossed into the sea like promises never meant to be kept, and of gulls crying like mourners. They could still hear the wind wailing at the sight of black bodies bobbing in blue water like bottles carrying notes nobody would ever read.

So many Africans were thrown into the sea, sharks swam alongside slave ships, waiting for the inevitable bodies. From approximately 1518 until 1865, ships from Great Britain, Holland, Portugal, France, and the United States brought Africans to the New World to work for no money.

Millions were taken. No one knows how many millions died.

Except the sharks.

Selected Works

History
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
Fiction
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
Autobiography
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.
Non-Fiction
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.