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Ernest J. Gaines (1933–2019)

Author of A Lesson Before Dying

16+ Works 8,727 Members 167 Reviews 13 Favorited

About the Author

Ernest James Gaines was born on January 15, 1933, on the River Lake Plantation, Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. His 1993 novel, A Lesson Before Dying, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Gaines has been a MacArthur Foundation fellow, awarded the National Humanities Medal, and show more inducted into the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) as a Chevalier. Although he was educated in California (at San Francisco State College and Stanford University), his fiction is dominated by images and characters drawn from rural Louisiana, where he was born and raised. Unquestionably the most recognizable, and probably the best, of Gaines's novels is The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), a fictional account of the long life of a black woman born a slave on a Louisiana plantation. Through the stories of the many fascinating people who touch Jane's life, Gaines presents not only a moving perspective on the struggles of African Americans but also a social history of the United States since the Civil War. It is a testimony to Gaines's skill as a writer and storyteller that many people believe Jane Pittman was a real person. Indeed, the novel is frequently misshelved in the biography section of bookstores. In 1993 Gaines also won the Dos Passos Prize and in 2000 he won the National Humanities Medal. Of Gaines's other works, Bloodline (1976), a collection of five short stories, stands out for its powerful portrayals of young men in search of self-respect and dignity. In 2013 President Barack Obama presented Mr. Gaines with the National Medal of Arts. Ernest J. Gaines passed away on November 5,2019 at this home in Oscar, LA at the age of 86. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Ian Edelstein / Seattle Municipal Archives

Works by Ernest J. Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying (1993) 5,438 copies
A Gathering of Old Men (1983) 1,035 copies
Of Love and Dust (1967) 182 copies
In My Father's House (1978) 174 copies
Catherine Carmier (1964) 167 copies
Bloodline: Five Stories (1968) 130 copies
The Tragedy of Brady Sims (2017) 74 copies
A Long Day in November (1971) 31 copies
The Sky Is Gray (2002) 6 copies
Three Men (2002) 2 copies
A Long Day in November (1971) 1 copy

Associated Works

The Signet Classic Book of Southern Short Stories (1991) — Contributor — 122 copies
The Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology (1997) — Contributor — 98 copies
The Granta Book of the American Long Story (1822) — Contributor — 98 copies
American Short Stories (1976) — Contributor, some editions — 95 copies
Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America (1995) — Contributor — 90 copies
Memory of Kin: Stories About Family by Black Writers (1990) — Contributor — 65 copies
American Negro Short Stories (1966) — Contributor — 61 copies
Novel Voices (2003) — Contributor — 55 copies
San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics (2009) — Contributor — 47 copies
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman [1974 film] (2003) — Original book — 29 copies
Trial and Error: An Oxford Anthology of Legal Stories (1998) — Contributor — 24 copies
Studies in Fiction (1965) — Contributor — 22 copies
Family: Stories from the Interior (1987) — Contributor — 15 copies
A Lesson Before Dying [1999 film] (2009) — Original book — 10 copies
Cutting Edges: Young American Fiction for the 70's (1973) — Contributor — 7 copies
A Gathering of Old Men [1987 film] (2006) — Original book — 5 copies
Whole Pieces (1990) — Contributor — 1 copy


Common Knowledge

Legal name
Gaines, Ernest James
Date of death
Burial location
Mount Zion Baptist Church Cemetery, Port Hudson, Louisiana, USA
River Lake Plantation, Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, USA
Place of death
Oscar, Louisiana, USA
Places of residence
Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, USA
Vallejo, California, USA
San Francisco, California, USA
Lafayette, Louisiana, USA
San Francisco State College
Stanford University
professor (creative writing ∙ University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
American Academy of Arts and Letters (1998)
Fellowship of Southern Writers (charter member)
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Awards and honors
National Humanities Medal (2000)
American Academy of Arts and Letters Academy Award (1987)
John Dos Passos Prize (1993)
Louisiana Writer Award (2000)
F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Fiction (2001)
Cleanth Brooks Medal for Lifetime Achievement (2011) (show all 10)
Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature (2012)
MacArthur Fellowship (1993)
Guggenheim Fellowship (1972 ∙ Fiction)
National Medal of Arts (2013)
Short biography
Ernest James Gaines was an American author whose works have been taught in college classrooms and translated into many languages, including French, Spanish, German, Russian and Chinese. Four of his works were made into television movies. His 1993 novel, A Lesson Before Dying, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Gaines was a MacArthur Foundation fellow, was awarded the National Humanities Medal, and was inducted into the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) as a Chevalier.



Excellent! Second time around for me and just as compelling. Lovely writing.
Suem330 | 104 other reviews | Dec 28, 2023 |
Abandoned 43% of the way through. At this point, not much had happened, plot-wise, yet there was profanity, including God's name used in vain, and some sexual content. Not worth finishing.
RachelRachelRachel | 104 other reviews | Nov 21, 2023 |
The writing style of this author was very strange. It's almost the level of high school or less. The dialogue between characters was immature and very repetitive, literally once there was a No. Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes going on between two people. So, I would give this part about a 2-star.

On the other hand the storyline was awesome and would absolutely make a GREAT movie and gets at least a four star, so I gave an average 3-star rating overall. Now, imagine this:

The story takes place in 1970's Marshall, Louisiana, on the St. Charles Bayou when racism and racial tensions are still very high and the KKK was trying to still hang around and keep the blacks down and in their place. A black worker on the sugar cane plantation kills a longtime Cajun resident and descendant of the Marshall plantation, Beau Boutan, 35 years old, who thought he could still live by the slavery rules and insult and whip and even kill a black person who stood up for himself. So, Charlie killed him in self protection. Candy, Beau's cousin, who runs the sugarcane business operations and loves and fights for the rights of the blacks still living in huts on the plantation, tries to protect the blacks knowing the KKK klan will be coming by and wanting blood. She gathers all the old black men left around to come and bring their 12-gauge shotgun and a blank 5-shell to gather on the porch and around the house to protect Mathus, who she thought killed Beau, but it was really Charlie. But they had also secretly stashed some real rounds at the back of the house and everytime one went out to the outhouse, they grab a bullet or two. So, all the old men, around 15 of them, 80 years old and some even older are there and they all claim they were the one who shot Beau.

The sheriff shows up and is at first very hard on them until he starts to hear each of their stories of why they killed Beau. It was for what's not there any more...their mom &dad and what they put up with, someones uncle no longer here, someones brother who was beat down and killed because his mule beat the white man's big tractor, etc...They each told their story.

The KKK, with Luke Wills in charge, head out there at night and there's a bit of a shootout. The fat sheriff is maimed right off the bat. Later there's another big shootout where everyone was shooting everywhere and Charlie and Luke Wills end up dead. During the hearing at court, all the old men showed up broken...scratches, cuts, bandaged here and there, crutches, casts. And to top it all off, they had the courts rolling with their nicknames such as: Clabber, Dirty Red, Coot, Chimley, Rooster, etc...which the old black men kept using instead of their real names when telling their story.
MOVIE: A Gathering of Old Men (1987), starring Louis Gossett Jr, Richard Widmark and Holly Hunter.
… (more)
MissysBookshelf | 24 other reviews | Aug 27, 2023 |
The debt is never finished as long as we stand for this.

What an incredible story.
KristinDiBum | 24 other reviews | Jul 21, 2023 |



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