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A Lesson on Ernest Gaines

From now through November, South Louisiana is celebrating the work and influence of writer Ernest J. Gaines. 

October 1 is the deadline for entries to the eighth annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Called the “nation’s biggest prize for African-American writers” by The Times Picayune in New Orleans, previous award winners include Attica Locke, Stephanie Powell Watts, Dinaw Mengestu and Victor LaValle. Chosen by a distinguished panel of professional writers and academics, the winner is announced in early November and awarded $10,000 in cash.

The check is presented in Baton Rouge in January, and the winning writer is then whisked away to the land of Ernest Gaines in Oscar, Louisiana, treated to lunch, a toast with the author and a walk in the back yard to to the old plantation church Gaines restored as well as an excursion to the plantation cemetery. Aside from the check, it’s a priceless experience with a legendary writer who deserves to be celebrated while he’s still alive. 

Ernest-Gaines-in-Church.SanfordA native of Pointe Coupee Parish, Gaines served as creative writing instructor at UL Lafayette and is best known for his novels The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Gathering of Old Men and A Lesson Before Dying. His first novel Catherine Carmier, about a man who returns home to the South and falls in love with a woman who can’t leave, marks its 50th anniversary this year, while the film version of “Miss Jane Pittman” marks its 40th.

Gaines will appear at the Louisiana Book Festival on November 1 in Baton Rouge this year, and the Ernest J. Gaines Center at UL Lafayette is sponsoring a series with the Lafayette Public Library to celebrate Gaines’ work leading up to the festival (scroll down for the schedule). The Gaines celebration ends on November 21 with the second annual Ernest J. Gaines Lecture, sponsored by Friends of the Humanities, at the Gaines Center.

In addition, an exhibit on Gaines exhibit at the State Library of Louisiana recently opened and will be up through December 1. The exhibit showcases Louisiana Literary Awards won by Gaines and both first edition and foreign language translations of Miss Jane Pittman and Catherine Carmier.


Ernest J. Gaines Series in Lafayette: 

(All programs are free, and films will be shown at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays; view the full schedule here.)

  • September 24: Film screening of “A Lesson Before Dying” (South Regional Library)
  • October 1: Film screening of “A Gathering of Old Men” (South Regional Library)
  • October 8: Film screening of “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (South Regional Library)
  • October 9: Bayou Book Talk on Ernest J. Gaines by Dr. Marcia Gaudet and Dr. Reggie Young (South Regional Library)
  • October 15: Reading by Jeffery Renard Allen, 2009 winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence (Gaines Center, UL Lafayette)
  • October 22: Book discussion of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (South Regional Library)
  • November 1: Discussion with Gaines at the Louisiana Book Festival (State Capitol in Baton Rouge)
  • November 2: Reading by Gaines at UL Lafayette (Moody Hall, Room 103)
  • November 21: 2nd Annual Earnest J. Gaines Lecture by Dr. John Lowe on Catherine Carmier (Gaines Center, UL Lafayette)

Gaines photo by Joseph Sanford. 

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