Dr. Neal Lester will present the University of Lynchburg’s 2022 John M. Turner Lecture in the Humanities at 6 p.m. Monday, April 18, in Hall Campus Center’s Memorial Ballroom. Lester, a professor of English and founding director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University, will offer “Straight Talk about the N-word.”
“Like no other word in the English language, the N-word quickly becomes leading news headlines — particularly when celebrities use it,” Lester explained.
The word has long been used in “American childhood rhymes and ditties, in minstrel songs that are now popular Disney children’s songs, and in commercial advertisements,” he added, and it “punctuates some rap songs, is euphemized, buried in mock funerals, and bleeped from media broadcasts.”
Lester’s talk is a response to one critic’s challenge to “create an environment for dialogue about the word’s purposes and problems.”
It’s also an opportunity, Lester said, to “hold under a critical microscope this single word described as ‘the most inflammatory, shocking and historic word in the English language.’”
John M. Turner Chair in the Humanities Dr. Adam Dean is looking forward to an enlightening and thought-provoking lecture.
“Dr. Neal Lester is both a leader in the public humanities and a nationally renowned speaker about race,” Dean said. “I believe his research and position as a public scholar offer a great example of how the humanities can inform and contribute to the wider public dialogue.
“Students are undoubtedly aware that celebrity usage of the ‘N-word’ and its appearance in popular songs is controversial. Dr. Lester’s talk examines the word’s history and usage in American race relations.”
As Lester put it, his talk considers this word through the “complex discourse of American race relations, ultimately gauging more broadly the fundamental role of words, history, language, and performance to construct identities — individual, communal, and even national.”
Lester has been a professor of English at Arizona State University since the fall of 1997. He specializes in African American literary and cultural studies. He previously taught at the University of Montevallo in Alabama and at the University of Alabama, where he was the first African American faculty member tenured in the English department.
Lester earned his bachelor’s in English from the State University of West Georgia and his master’s and doctorate in English at Vanderbilt University.
For more information, contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 434.544.7253.