Renowned La. author Ernest Gaines dies at 86

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Author Ernest Gaines, the Louisiana-born author of “A Lesson Before Dying” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” has died at age 86.

The Ernest J. Gaines Center on the Campus of UL Lafayette has issued the following statement on the passing of Dr. Ernest J. Gaines:  

On November 5, 2019, Dr. Ernest J. Gaines peacefully passed away at his home in the presence of his wife, Mrs. Dianne Gaines.

The legacy that Dr. Gaines is leaving behind is nothing short of brilliant and awe-inspiring. Born in 1933, on a plantation near New Roads, Louisiana, Dr. Gaines rose to prominence through his nine novels and several short stories reflecting the lives of African Americans, Cajuns, and Creoles living in the rural South. An award-winning author whose works have been translated into over 14 different languages, Dr. Gaines was the first Louisiana

Humanist of the Year, a MacArthur fellow, Medal of the Arts recipient, and the holder of numerous honorary degrees. His novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, was the first neo-slave narrative and was required reading in French schools. A Lesson before Dying spent time on top of several literary best-seller lists and Oprah Winfrey’s 1997 book club.

After receiving a Masters of Fine Arts from Stanford University and residing in California’s Bay Area, Dr. Gaines returned to Louisiana where he would live out the rest of his days.

In 1981, he began working in the Creative Writing program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette until his retirement from teaching in 2010. After retiring, the University began the Ernest J. Gaines Center, an international research center and archive dedicated to preserving the life and works of the author. Though he touched countless people through his work, to know him was to love him. A towering man with a gentle voice, Dr. Gaines was an inspiration to generations and his death will be felt deeply by family, friends, and his University family.

(Ashley White, The Advertiser)- Author Ernest Gaines, the Louisiana-born author of “A Lesson Before Dying” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” has died at age 86.

The Pointe Coupee Parish native grew in popularity through books like “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” and became even more well known after Oprah Winfrey featured his “A Lesson Before Dying” in her book club. Both books were later adapted into films. 

He was born in 1933 on River Lake Plantation. Five generations of his family have lived there, first as slaves on the plantation, then as sharecroppers, and then, Gaines lived freely on the land.

At age 15, he moved to California. Gaines served in the Army and enrolled in San Francisco State University, where he began publishing short stories in the university’s literary journal. He earned a spot in Stanford University’s graduate program for creative writing.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statement on the passing of Ernest Gaines:

Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the following statement on the passing of award winning author Ernest J Gaines:

“It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to Ernest J. Gaines, a native Louisianan who used his immense vision and literary talents to tell the stories of African Americans in the South. We are all blessed that Ernest left words and stories that will continue to inspire many generations to come. Born in poverty in Pointe Coupee, Ernest would go on to author 10 novels and numerous short stories, to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and win the National Book Critics Circle Award for his acclaimed novel A Lesson Before Dying. He was a writer in residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for more than 20 years. Earlier this year, Donna and I had the chance to visit with Ernest and his wife after a Sunday drive. It’s a memory we will both cherish as part of our long friendship. Please join us in elevating him, his wife and his family in your prayers.” 

Author Ernest Gaines reads a selection from his debut novel 
"Catherine Carmier" at his home library in Oscar.
(The Advertiser)

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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