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Neal A. Lester, Ph.D. is Foundation Professor of English and Founding Director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University. He has been a Professor of English at Arizona State University since 1997, having taught previously at the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa)—the first African American faculty member tenured in the Department of English--and at the University of Montevallo (AL). Dr. Lester earned his B.A. in English and was Valedictorian at the State University of West Georgia (Carrollton). He took his M.A. and Ph.D. in English at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN) and is the first African American to receive the doctorate degree in English at Vanderbilt. His areas of specialization are African American literature and cultural studies.
The author or co-author/ editor of seven books-- among them Ntozake Shange: A Critical Study of the Plays (1995) and Understanding Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents (1999)-- Dr. Lester has published, lectured, and taught extensively in the area of African American Studies. He has published on personal ads as African American biography and autobiography; black masculinities; African American homoeroticism; neo-slave narratives; parental (il)literacy in children's literature; the absence of the word "nigger" in contemporary African American children's texts; African American female sexuality; interracial intimacies in American popular music; heteronormativity in children's texts, African American womanist theory; Disney's first African American princess in The Princess and the Frog; Disney’s Tangled feminist messages; Helen Bannerman's Little Black Sambo as an anti-trickster; and the gender and race politics of African Americans and hair. His course, "The N-word: An Anatomy Lesson," the only such course taught in the country, has garnered local, national, and international attention. His third book, Once Upon a Time in a Different World: Issues and Ideas in African American Children’s Literature (2007), is a collection of Dr. Lester's essays on children's literature with scholars, critics, and laypersons responding each to a different essay and creating a threaded conversation about identity, gender, sexuality and race. He has also completed a co-edited collection of essays on the intersection of race, gender and sexuality in personal ads, Racialized Politics of Desire in Personal Ads (2008). His co-edited volume Sapphire's Literary Breakthrough: Feminist Pedagogies, Erotic Literacies, Environmental Justice Perspectives (2012), is the first critical study if this important poet and author. Dr. Lester is also co-author of the exhibition catalog HairStories (2003) for the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2013, Dr. Lester served as the lead editor of the international journal of children’s literature, The Lion and The Unicorn, a special issue on children and hair. He is currently editing a special volume on social justice pedagogy for the Modern Language Association, the leading professional humanities organization in North America.