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LOVING BEFORE LOVING: A Marriage in Black and White

Memoir. Coming May 18, 2021

 Committed to the struggle for civil rights, in the late 1950s Joan Steinau marched and protested. She soon fell in love with and married the Black writer Julius Lester, establishing a partnership that was long and multifaceted but not free of the politics of race and gender. Over time, as the women's movement dawned, feminism helped Lester find her voice, her pansexuality, and the courage to be herself.


Braiding personal and political history, Lester tells the story of her fight for love and justice before, during, and after the Supreme Court's landmark 1967 decision striking down bans on interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia.


Loving before Loving is a riveting and deeply personal memoir that eloquently communicates the deep pains of sexism and racism—and presents a guide to transforming those pains into strength and meaningful progress. Lester's search for a path that allows her to become the person she wants to be offers insights for anyone struggling for equality within a patriarchal society.





"Weaving her personal history with decades of social history, Lester's memoir beautifully captures her relentless quest to find her voice as a writer and as a woman living on the foreront of social change. An engaging and inspiring narrative!"

     Beverley Daniel Tatum, author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? 



"Exceptional. It is a real challenge to write a memoir that is intellectually deep, psychologically sophisticated, and politically principaled that is also engaging, accessible, funny, and tender. Loving before Loving certainly is all that. What a remarkable ride."

     Becky Thompson, author of A Promise and A Way of Life



"This well-told story gives us a front row seat to the events that are unfolding in the civil rights and women's rights movements in the 1960s and '70s. The tough choices haven't changed--family, love, self-care, community. How do we find grace?"

     Irma Herrera, playwright and performer of Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?


"Vividly written and profoundly moving, Lester's journey--as wife, mother, activist--is politically insightful and prescient. Since her vigorous, heartfelt obervations and analyses are generative and healinbg, this memoir is needed now when our racial conlicts, alwys profound, continue to intensify."

     Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt, 3 volumes.


"Reminiscent of Anatole Broyand's When Kafka Was the Rage, Lester's poignant literary memoir explores the timeless theme of the education of a writer in a time of great social change—but, importantly, this time from a woman's point of view. Lester's writing is beautifully fluid and insightful, her story at once deeply personal and largely political—carving out what eventually becomes an influential creative life, doing so in a world that consistently asks her, and women like her, to suspend their dreams in order to heed the voices of the men and others surrounding them. A powerful memoir. A magnificent read!"

     Ellery Washington, Pratt Institute


"A compelling journey about a life worth telling. Lester allows us to go with her through her eventful life with unmitigated candor about her failures and exhuberant joy in her successes."

     Eleanor Holmes Norton, congresswoman for the District of Columbia"


 "Lester's memoir unfurls a painful and rewarding road map through a writer's life and the social history that shaped it, revealing the peaks and valleys that made her the phenomenal writer she is today. Once she embraced the 'urgent poetics' of writing as her own there was no stopping her."

     Jewelle Gomez, Lambda Literary Award–winning author of The Gilda Stories and playwright of Waiting for Giovanni


"Joan Lester hurled herself into life as she searched how to be a writer. Her memoir is a reminder of long meetings into the night and frightening knocks on the door, of courage shouted out at demonstrations and lovemaking across forbidden color and gender lines, of books that profoundly changed our lives. It was there Joan became a writer and became part of the change."

     Holly Near, author of Fire in the Rain, Singer in the Storm


"This intimate, brave memoir is also one that many women will recognize as their own: a lifetime spent trying to heal others and the world, only to discover one must start with oneself."

     Robin Morgan, editor of the iconic anthology Sisterhood is Powerful


"Lester's story will be an inspiration to every activist and to everyone searching for a way to use their voice and words as part of the fight for justice. I am in awe of her journey, so relevant to the world we live in today."

     Maxine Wolfe, cofounder of ACT UP National Women's Committee


 "A compelling and intimate account of how the social movements from the '60s to the '90s shaped so many women's lives. Lester's insightful narrative on how the persistence of violence based on race, class, and gender shapes personal as well as political life is still relevant today. It informs, inspires, and entertains."

     Charlotte Bunch, founding director at the Center for Women's Global Leadership, Rutgers University


"Brave and compelling. Lester's ultimate triumph felt like my own celebration, after I shared her remarkable journey through pivotal social movements and personal pain. Brava!"

     Lalita Tademy, New York Times best-selling author of Cane River


"Charts with frankness one writer's journey to find fulfillment. Intense and deeply felt, this memoir plumbs the depths and creates a sharp snapshot of a young girl initially unsure of her path, through to a mature woman who understands exactly where her passion lies. Speaking candidly about every facet of her life, Lester opens a door into the emotional process required to succeed as a writer. What a compelling read!"

     Linda Gray Sexton, author of Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey to My Mother, Anne Sexton


"This book is laced with passion and anger—both personal and political—that buffets and thwarts Lester but forces her to hold tight to her dreams. Her triumphant path to publication is an ending we can all savor. Over the years, her mentors are often books that come to her at just the right time, and seeing them through her eyes is a glorious reminder of their power. Perhaps with this memoir, Lester will slip into the canon alongside her mentors."

     Elizabeth Partridge, author of National Book Award–finalist Marching for Freedom


"More than just an exploration of how Lester shed her 1950s upbringing, with its emphasis on marriage and motherhood, to become a writer. The book is also a page-turning journey through the civil rights and women's movements, where she marched and protested and explored the meaning of race and being female in American society. Those battles gave Lester the strength to claim her rightful position as an acclaimed essayist, biographer, and novelist. You will be cheering for the heroine all the way through the book."

     Frances Dinkelspiel, New York Times best-selling author of Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California


"Joan Lester tells the fascinating story of how she emerged as a writer. Set against the backdrop of her impressive work for civil rights, Lester reveals the years of being unable to liberate herself. How satisfying to reach the conclusion of that struggle in the form of this gripping memoir. Toward the end of her story, Lester wonders if her words will someday be inspirational to future generations of aspiring writers. My answer is a resounding, Yes!"

     Monica Wesolowska, author of Holding Silvan: A Brief Life


"From her unique vantage point, Lester delivers a beautiful memoir about being a white woman married to a Black man when it was illegal in more than two dozen states. This memoir, written with a skilled, wholly human hand, is as intensely personal as it is universal."

     Katie Hafner, New York Times writer and author of Mother Daughter Me




>"Convinced more than ever that creativity is one of our life forces, I've come to believe I must paint and write to live. I always thought Joan Lester's writing came effortlessly, organically, confidently. I never imagined she had doubts. Reading Loving Before Loving has been good for the soul."

     Aquila Ayana McCants, painter and sculptor


"Joan's story as she lived it in the struggle for civil rights, peace in Vietnam, and social justice in our own country. Writers will appreciate her marvelously successful effort throughout to find her own voice as an essayist and novelist."

     Nancy Schwerner, librarian