Julius Lester, "a captivating and often polarizing American writer whose odyssey through a labyrinth of religious and ethnic identities caused him to be labeled a militant black separatist and a race traitor, as well as an anti-Semite and, after his conversion to Judaism, a vociferous Zionist," died January 18, the New York Times reported. He was 78. His nonfiction and fiction were "largely devoted to portraying black American history, past and present. It was a history, his work made clear, that bound black lives together 'like beads strung on a necklace of pain,' as he wrote in the Times in 1976."
Lester published more than four dozen books for adults and children. His best-known works for adults include the book Look Out, Whitey! Black Power's Gon' Get Your Mama (1968) and two volumes of memoir, All Is Well (1976) and Lovesong: Becoming a Jew (1988).
His children's books include To Be a Slave (1968), a Newbery Honor Book; and Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue, which won the American Library Association's Coretta Scott King Award in 2006. He also collaborated on a series of children's picture books with illustrator Jerry Pinkney, including Sam and the Tigers (1996), "a retelling of the Victorian children's book The Story of Little Black Sambo purged of its myriad racist elements," the Times noted.