Founding Director

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Dr. Neal A. Lester

Neal A. Lester, PhD, is Foundation Professor of English and Founding Director of the multiple award-winning Project Humanities initiative at Arizona State University. With expertise in African American literature and culture, Dr. Lester has authored or edited seven books and myriad essays and chapters on topics ranging from the race and gender politics of hair, Black masculinities, and African American folklore, to Toni Morrison’s children’s books. In addition to his publications on ntozake shange, Alice Walker, Sapphire, and Zora Neale Hurston, Dr. Lester has done pioneering work on the Nword, having created and taught the first college course on the Nword in the US.

His expertise on cultural appropriation, on everyday lessons in privilege and bias, and on humanities and entrepreneurship is nationally and internationally recognized. His expertise has led to interviews with CNN, USA Today, Good Morning America, The Special Report with Reva Martin, Newsweek, Your Teen (for Parents), Arizona Horizon, Raising Arizona Kids, Arizona Republic, Ahwatukee Foothills News, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He has lectured in Ghana, Pakistan, China, Mexico, Italy, and Korea.

An award-winning teacher and popular radio guest, moderator, and panelist, Dr. Lester is editor of a forthcoming collection on global social justice, to be published in 2023 by the Modern Language Association, and guest editor of the special issue of Humanities on the topic of “African American Children’s Literature.”

In January 2022, Dr. Lester received Arizona State University’s inaugural Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Servant-Leadership Faculty Award, an accolade that follows other such MLK recognitions from the City of Tempe (AZ), the City of Phoenix (AZ), the Town of Paradise Valley (AZ).

Longer Bio

Awards & Accolades

Project Humanities [Director] Receives Inaugural ASU Faculty MLK Servant-Leader Award

January 2022

Project Humanities [Director] Receives Catalyst Award, ASU Committee for Campus Inclusion

December 2021

Project Humanities [Director] Receives Citizen of the Year Award, Phi Iota Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity

November 2021

Project Humanities [Director] Receives MLK Diversity Award, City of Tempe

January 2021

Project Humanities [Director] Receives Unity in the Community Service Award, Holy Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church

February 2020

Project Humanities [Director] Receives The Art of Academia, Living History Award

January 2020

Project Humanities [Director] Receives MLK Diversity Award, City of Phoenix

January 2019

Project Humanities [Director] Receives Diversity Leadership Alliance Award

December 2018

Project Humanities [Director] Receives 9th Prismatic Pride Award, Ion Arizona Magazine

April 2017

Project Humanities [Director] Receives MLK Diversity Awards, City of Tempe and City of Paradise Valley

January 2017

Project Humanities [Director] Inducted into Echo Magazine’s Hall of Fame

November 2016

Project Humanities [Director] Receives Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Faculty Award, ASU Committee for Campus Inclusion

April 2016

Project Humanities [Director] Receives Invisible Heroes "UMOJA" Award, United Gay Informed Men of African Descent (UGIMA)

February 2015

Project Humanities [Director] Touted as 'Invisible Hero', Echo Magazine

February 2015

Project Humanities [Director] Receives ADE Francis Andrew March Award

January 2015

Project Humanities [Director] Honored by Modern Language Association, Modern Language Association

January 2015

Project Humanities [Director] Receives Roy Wilkins Community Service Award, East Valley NAACP

October 2014

Project Humanities [Director] Receives Inaugral Key of Excellence Award, The Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society

December 2013

Dean's Distinguished Professor and Newly Tenured Rising Stars

June 2004


Dr. Lester Introduces African American Literature I (Beginning to Harlem Renaissance) via Short Videos

Collections & Videos

Explore the collections and stories within Dr. Lester's office.

Research by Dr. Lester

As a scholar of African American literature and culture, Dr. Lester is often called upon by local, national and international media and communities to offer commentary on the state of US race relations, past and present. Such commentaries cover such topics as the race and gender politics of hair, the Nword, cultural appropriation, and privilege and bias. 

General categories of his research expertise are: Race Relations in America, Cultural Appropriation, the Nword, Politics of Hair, and Social Justice through Things and Stuff.

Race Relations in America

  Watch Playlist on YouTube


Dr. Neal Lester Interview on Critical Race Theory 22-Sep-21
ASU academics work to dispel critical race theory myths 02-Sep-21
ASU Project Humanities event dispels myths about critical race theory 26-Aug-21
Facebook post sparks discussion of racism here 24-May-21
Systems of Privilege: A Conversation with Dr. Neal Lester 27-Jul-20
Digging up the roots of racism's serviceability 09-Jul-20
Polititeen: "Awareness to Action": Filling the Gaps in Our (Im) perfect Union ft. Dr. Neal Lester on Apple Podcasts 08-Jul-20
What should we do to fight racism? We are asking the wrong people 04-Jun-20
“No, I'm not okay" 03-Jun-20
America’s past and present: parallel plagues 14-Apr-20
What meeting Toni Morrison taught me 14-Aug-19
400 Years Forward Organizers Seek To Move The Conversation Beyond Enslavement 13-Aug-19
ASU scholars reflect on Toni Morrison's impact on literature 07-Aug-19
7 Metro Phoenix Creatives Share Reflections on Writer Toni Morrison 07-Aug-19
Gillibrand’s Racial Elephant in the Room 05-Aug-19
Schools keep teaching slavery and civil rights history in ways that traumatize black students 19-Apr-19
Schools Keep Defending Racially Insensitive Classroom Activities In A Worrisome Trend 18-Apr-19
BASIS teacher had class shame a black student for lesson on school segregation, mom says 15-Apr-19
Classrooms and race: “What about the children?” 16-Mar-19
'No Black bucks for Starbucks': Protesters at Phoenix Starbucks call company racist 21-Apr-18
‘Putting out a fire’: Racial-bias experts say Starbucks training is only a start | AZCentral 17-Apr-18
Black Male Literary Scholarship and African American Children’s Literature: An Interview with Dr. Neal A. Lester of Arizona State University 03-Apr-18
Arizona ranks fourth in the nation for racial integration, study finds. | KTAR News (Transcript) 10-Jan-18
Moore: Gender-equality movement could help spark new push in sports 06-Jan-18
ASU professors choose must-read books for college students 15-Nov-17
ASU Professor Discusses Criticism Over Slavery Computer Game 12-Oct-17
Parents Outraged After Phoenix Elementary School Students Instructed To Play Slavery Simulation Game 12-Oct-17
Slavery-simulation game causes outcry at Phoenix elementary school 11-Oct-17
Dr. Lester interviewed regarding "Children’s Literature and Race,” by Richard E. Ashby, Jr. | Your Voice Your Choice, MPI-TX 02-Mar-17
University of Georgia visiting scholar 18-Sep-17
Obama Strikes 'Negro' and 'Oriental' from Federal Documents - Iowa public radio 31-May-16
Confederate flag debate reaches Arizona 22-Jun-15

Cultural Appropriation


  Watch Playlist on YouTube


Why shrugging off Joe Rogan's use of the n-word is so dangerous, CNN 


Classrooms grapple with racial slurs in classic American novels 


Allen Johnson: White is Black, up is down and the n-word’s OK? 


Students rally behind Black Tampa school cop fired for using racial slur 


No Desis, you cannot say the N-word. 


Academic freedom and the N-word, University Affairs 


Your big questions about race, answered 


Ron Jans used the most loaded word in the English language 


What Do You Do When Your Young Child Uses the N-Word? 


Should Schools Have an N-Word Policy? Uproar Over Guard's Firing Forces Hard Questions 


Liberty schools officials must combat racism in the district | The Kansas City Star 


Recent Incidents Remind Us The N-Word Should Never Be Tolerated | Twin Cities 


Viral video of AU student using n-word prompts outrage from student body 


Ortiz: You have no business saying the N-word if you’re not Black 


History Behind N-Word Emphasizes Impact 


At the Intersection of Language and Culture: Rap and the N-Word | by Nathan Graber-Lipperman | UNPLUGG'D MAG | Medium 


Beyond Bob Lamey and John Schnatter: Why a racial slur with an ugly past continues to divide 


The G-L Review Ep. 15: Dr. Neal Lester On Rap, Culture, And The N-Word 


Workshop with Neal A Lester, PhD: Straight Talk About the NWord 


From Muhammad Ali to Charles Barkley, How the Use of ‘Ni**a’ in the Media Shows How Black America Lost Its Way 


Paula Deen, Trayvon Martin, the Shadow of Racism and the Power of “the N-word” 


'To Kill a Mockingbird' banned in Mississippi school: ASU reacts 


School assignment on the 'N-word' angers parents 


Controversy Stirs Over Jackson Students' Photo 


Considering the N-word: To reject or reclaim? 


How a childhood friendship intersected at Georgia - UGAGS Magazine 


Neal Lester discusses social consequences of the N-word 


Neal Lester visits UGA to speak about representation of black males - The Red & Black 


Straight Talk about the N-Word & related events at UGA 


Discussions on the N-word: Neal Lester to speak 


Talk about the 'N-Word': UGA Student Organizes Concerts, Lectures, and Discussions on Race 


Yes, I Want To Talk About The N-Word 


'Compared to IRA massacres N-word row can seem trivial' 


N-word controversy at Phoenix high school altered their senior year, changed district's efforts to combat racism 


How does the article "The N-Word: Connected Through Historical Disconnect?" relate to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird in chapters 8-11? 


Straight Talk About the N-Word - Predictions, Prose, and Politics 


The N-Word Special Report: Chapter II 


Lester: Yes indeed folks, in our own backyard... 


Is it 'just a word'? Questions, comments about the N-word controversy at Desert Vista, also in USA TODAY 


ASU professor weighs in on DVHS Controversy 


WTHR BLOG:  Why is the "N-word" still offensive? 


Has the N-word lost its meaning to kids? 


BSA, students discuss the ‘N’ word 


The N-word in America: a term loaded like no other 


The "N-word" for "negro", the most taboo word in the United States 


The 'N-word' is 'the most powerful word in the English language' 


Obama’s use of N-word raises a question: Is it ever OK? 


How do African Americans in South Jersey feel about the n-word? 


Prediction, Prose and Politics: STRAIGHT TALK ABOUT THE N-WORD The Connotations of Thug, the N-Word, and Other Racial Slurs - Breaking Bias 


The Connotations of Thug, the N-Word, and Other Racial Slurs - Breaking Bias


What Am I Saying When I Say 'Nigger'? 


Straight Talk About the ‘N-Word’: Arizona State Professor Brings His Message to Nearby Oak Park Library 


Sticks and Stones: When kids use the N-word 


The N-Word: Connected Through Historical Disconnect? 


Professor puts the ‘N-Word’ under microscope 


The N-word Loses Another Follower 


ASU professor: N-word transcends history 


Straight Talk about the N-Word,” with Dr. Neal Lester 


What’s Up, My ’N’ positive discourse on a negative word 


Our conversation about a word that starts with ‘N’ 


Why Do Some People Use The N-Word? 


The N-word and the American psyche 


Lester: The infamous N-word continues to wreak havoc on American popular psyche 


Syracuse fires DPW worker for calling himself the N-word 


How Would You Kill The N-Word? : Code Switch: NPR 


Hair and the 'n-word': Connecting with Neal A. Lester 


N-word 101: College class studies story behind the slur 


Nigger - Analyzing Fences 


12 Most Controversial College Courses Ever Offered 


Coming to a college course this fall: “The N-Word" 


Sticks and stones may break my bones...: Airbrushing the Ugliest of Ugly in African American Children's Books