Louisiana Native Remembered for Southern Classics

Author Ernest J. Gaines died in his sleep of cardiac arrest at his home in Oscar, Louisiana today. He was 86 years old. A native of Pointe Coupee Parish, Mr. Gaines’ critically acclaimed novel, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” was adapted into a 1974 made-for-TV movie that received nine Emmy awards. His 1993 book, “A Lesson Before Dying,” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and is a part of high school curricula across the nation. He was Writer-in-Residence Emeritus at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

In addition, Mr. Gaines was active in the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, established 13 years ago to honor outstanding literary work from rising African-American authors while also recognizing Gaines’ extraordinary contribution to the literary world.

He was born on River Lake Plantation near False River and became one of the greatest writers of his generation, earning a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature and winning numerous other awards for his literary achievement, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the MacArthur Prize, also known as “the genius grant” for creativity. 

In 2007, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation established the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Mr. Gaines and his wife Dianne have met with each of the winners in Oscar and he has publicly shared words of insight and encouragement at each Gaines Award ceremony.  The Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence will continue as his legacy. It will be presented to a new awardee January 30, 2020.

“Ernest Gaines was a Louisiana treasure,” said BRAF President and CEO John Davies. “He will be remembered for his powerful prose that placed the reader directly into the story of the old South, as only he could describe it. We have lost a giant and a friend.”

Gaines wrote his first novel at the age of 17 and returned to Louisiana after living in California, building his home on former property of the plantation that inspired his stories.

In a 2007 interview that ran in The Foundation’s quarterly magazine, Currents, Mr. Gaines said of his ancestors, “I often sit on my back porch at night and think about how wonderful it would be if they were there sitting with me in rocking chairs and drinking coffee and talking. It’s the sort of thing I think about often, because this is where they were, right here, my grandparents’ grandparents. This is what makes me proud of the place.”

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