Project Humanities director to receive Francis Andrew March Award

By

Marshall Terrill

Neal A. Lester, founding director of ASU Project Humanities and Foundation Professor of English, will be presented the 2014 Francis Andrew March Award by the Modern Language Association of America in Vancouver, Canada, on Jan. 10, 2015. 

The Francis Andrew March Award was established by the Association of English Departments Executive Committee in 1984. The award is named for Francis March, professor of English at Lafayette College and the first professor of English in America. The Andrew Francis March Award honors those who have committed exceptional service to the profession of English.

In addition to being the Director of Project Humanities, Lester has received various teaching and service recognitions: Dean’s Distinguished Professor of English, Parents Association Professor of the Year and Arizona Humanities Distinguished Public Scholar. Lester received his doctorate in English from Vanderbilt University. In 1997, he joined the faculty of Arizona State University, where he chaired the English department from 2004 to 2010. While at ASU, he has also served as associate vice president for humanities and arts, dean of humanities, and visiting scholar at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. Lester has taught and published widely on African-American literature and culture, and he is a national and international expert on American race relations.

Lester founded Project Humanities in 2010 at a time when humanities programs were becoming endangered across the country as courses were being cut out of school curricula. Lester was then tasked with making humanities understanding and cross-disciplinary engagement more robust by first debunking the myth that humanities happens in the classroom. He launched Project Humanities with a goal to explore humanities by reaching across disciplines, generations, and communities. Although Lester’s teaching and scholarship emphasis was on African American literary and cultural studies, often his research, writings, and lectures in the area of human rights and race relations sparked vibrant social discourse, a pattern that became the signature of Project Humanities: "Talking, Listening, Connecting."

Lester and Project Humanities have received major accolades since the Project was founded in 2010, demonstrating the rapidly growing success and impact of this university initiative. In 2014, Lester received the Roy Wilkins Community Service Award from the East Valley National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the inaugural Key of Excellence Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the Juliana Yoder Friend of the Humanities Award from Arizona Humanities, and a written commendation from His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Humanity 101 effort.