The Passing of Ernest Gaines

OSCAR – Literary master and Louisianan Ernest Gaines has died, WBRZ learned Tuesday.

Gaines, a Pointe Coupee Parish native, died Tuesday morning.

Gaines, whose A Lesson Before Dying was part of Oprah’s Book Club in 1997, was an acclaimed author.

Colleagues of his at UL Lafayette – where his works are studied and shared at the university’s Ernest J. Gaines Center – mourned his loss in a thoughtful message online:

“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. 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.”

In 1981, he began working in the creative writing program at UL until his retirement from teaching in 2010.

The University of Louisiana records his masterpieces this way: “Gaines based his award-winning novels on the African American experience in the rural South. His works include The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971) and A Lesson Before Dying (1993), both later produced as award-winning films. Gaines’s generous donation of his early papers and manuscripts (through 1983) and some artifacts to Edith Garland Dupré Library provided the foundation for the Center’s collection. The Center also anticipates acquiring the remainder of Gaines’s papers.”

In 1993 Gaines received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for his lifetime achievements.

“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,” Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement. “We are all blessed that Ernest left words and stories that will continue to inspire many generations to come.”

Gaines was born on a plantation near New Roads in 1933.

“I was born here, stayed here, lived here until I was 15. It was because I could not go to a high school around here, in New Roads or Pointe Coupee,” Gaines said in a story by WBRZ anchor Brandi B Harris in February.

He and his wife were working to preserve a one-hundred-year-old church that had ties to his early life in Louisiana. The church is in their backyard and serves as hope for his audience.


Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi: A Review

There are very few history books that encapsulate a combination of vivid storytelling and engaging honesty. Kendi takes the reader on that perilous voyage, from before slavery to the present day (ending with the election of Obama). There is nothing sweet about Stamped from the Beginning. If you aren’t angered by something in each paragraph, you aren’t really reading the book. This is where the contents of the book could have become problematic. Kendi projects so much information that it feels as if they’re underwater. As a result, the reader (at least I did) yearns for some relief, only to realize that a period in history as brutal as the one endured by people of color –for hundreds of years (and continues)– cannot be peppered with jovial anecdotes or celebratory events. Kendi ventures into a world that seems surreal, inhumane beyond belief and definitely a cause to wonder if the Europeans of that era were human at all.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is what a history book is supposed to be. As I trekked through the pages I reflected on the Black history education I had received and how little I truly knew. From parading through elementary school and praising Christopher Columbus and Thanksgiving to the water-downed assessment of the searing 60s and the Black Power / Civil Rights movements while a college student, I realized that I was cheated of truth and followed the path of what was expected of me to keep me oppressed although I was led to believe that I was succeeding. Kendi made me listen closely to the conversations and, equally, watch the actions, of people who didn’t look like me, think like me, or, in many instances, were less educated than I am. He forced me to take a deeper look at who I had become and how I had become that person. I shuttered at the realization that the legacy of my forefathers was not only stolen but manipulated so perfectly that I found near absolute comfort in not questioning my heritage.

Kendi opened a Pandora’s Box and left it open, allowing the demons and the filthy truth to flutter freely. He addressed the racism of both Blacks and whites throughout history. He reawakened the ‘down south’ stories I had been told as if they were Aesop fables, thus only slight believable. Kendi made me think, and I am certain that those who become enveloped by this book will also think, or more precisely, rethink, how well they know the history of race throughout the world.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is beyond an amazing book, but because of its depth it may, unfortunately, be taught in very few educational institutions when it should be unquestionably required. This a double or triple read book. There is so much density within each page that a second or third reading would be like reading it for the very first time. Bravo Ibram X. Kendi, for writing one of the best books I have ever read the first time.

The Disappearing Author


The announcement of the release of her debut novel was equivalent to the literary second coming, at least to those of us who knew, and the level of excitement was infectious. What made her so special, I wouldn’t know for a few months, but I too found myself getting caught up in the hype: a maniacal frenzy based solely on what I read and the pics I saw.

During interviews, she was humble — quiet and serene among the maelstrom and fanfare. While reading an online article about her I noted her pictures, how she posed for the camera, timidly, like a child taking their first solo photo at the JC Penney studio. Despite this, her pictures glowed, beaming so brightly it was as if looking into the sun. She was magnificent, a star deserving of the flurry of accolades and whatever fame was netted from this moment.  The media adored her, as she strolled through their affairs with reserved assurance.

“So your much anticipate debut novel will be released in a few days– how does that feel?” a commentator asked.

“Feels great. A little surreal. Definitely unnerving. I’m excited.”

“As you very well should be. Congratulations and much success.”

I pre-ordered her novel upon its announcement. I wanted to be one of the first. I waited. In less than 48 hours I will possess her debut, concentrating on her telling, anticipating her first few words, opening the literary journey, wondering how she’d present her characters, settings, and storyline.  I was fortunate to have found some of her work in several literary journals, stories about her life in New York, first college love, and the relatable essay on body transformation wishes. Her stories were personal, inviting the readers into a room without a door but a screen that permitted only small glimpses into her world. I devoured them like a famished beast. There was something in the voice of those few read clips that captivated me, the way she twisted thought in time, how she invited me and others into a world she seemed to hold close to her soul.

On the day of her book’s release, I rushed to my Kindle with the excitement of a four-year-old. I opened my Kindle’s case, awakening it from its state of hibernation. The screen glowed a faint blue,  releasing Alladin from the lamp. I tapped in my password. The Kindle’s screen blinked, instantly revealing my books which I quickly fanned through, looking for the colorful familiar cover of her novel. Back and forth,  my finger became a wand… passing over a dozen unread books and a few periodicals. Her book was missing. Impossible.

I checked the cloud,  retraced my steps, reviewed the date of release, the bill of sale, and whether or not I requested that the book load into a particular Kindle. But, there was nothing. The book didn’t appear in the cloud. The date (which I cross-checked twice) was correct, and my order status was confirmed. I stared at the screen trying to figure out what went wrong. I Googled what I should do to retrieve the missing book, returning to my Kindle, staring and wondering. Finally, frustrated, and since nothing else worked, I restarted the device. ‘Kindle’ blazed across the screen and after a brief pause, the book miraculously appeared.

Immediately I opened the book, flipped past the preliminary banter, and dove into the first chapter, consuming her words, getting magnificently lost within her story. I became one with the book, the characters, the underdeveloped flat personalities, the asides, looking into the window of her soul. She moved me, made me dance and laugh and cry. I hated and loved her equally. She wanted to lay at her feet and she developed the complex layers that evolved into brief but unabridged animation.

In moments when I paused from reading, I imagined her in her apartment, writing her next book at a dark lacquered antique desk pushed against a window facing the street, losing herself in a psychosis that had no remedy. Perhaps, romantically,  lost in the local cafe, laboring, painstakingly, at her laptop, sipping cup after cup of coffee, taking brief breaks, talking to herself; animated. And as I flipped to the final page, I exhaled. She had written a journey, long, beautiful, and merciless. My budding love for her many voices was solidified. She was bound to become a literary legend; admired, lauded, and international. I would be waiting.

Two days after I completed her book, the story played over and over in my head. I recommended that friends and family read her tale. Her novel absorbed me and I hoped they, too, would be absorbed. I needed them to feel what I felt. I needed her to know, as well. She had to know. I had to tell her.

I nervously sent her a message, thanking and praising her.  I felt stupid, desperate, but justified. I surmised that writers needed to be told that people appreciated their craft, admired the thought and effort it took to create a world with blood, flesh,  emotion, and mischief — to be both omnipotent, and omnipresent. I wanted her to know, so I told her in a post that probably made me seem more stalker than an admirer.  A day later she responded with the eight words every reader wants to receive:

Thank you. I really appreciate your support.

I swam through that brief, surreal, moment; backstroked in the blue Caribbean water parallel to white sand and randomly placed palm and coconut trees.  I followed her as her career rocketed to unimaginable heights and rose to levels she said she’d dreamed of since childhood. I congratulated her for her many achievements, virtual partied with her at star-studded soirees, following her from the East Coast to the shores of places trapped in time. Soon the author and I became virtual friends, sharing pics, words, and worlds with little meaning to anyone else but us.  And then our communication ceased. The communication with everyone ended — without reason. There were no posts. There were no DMs. Everything froze. There, suddenly,  was nothing but silence.

She was working on another book, I assumed. That’s what I told myself.

She… was… ABSOLUTELY… working… on… another… book.

Two years had passed since the release of the amazing global ride created by her last 137,000-word project, after all,  and although never making the top five of the NYT best-seller list, it was popular, but the road was coming to an end. Still, that wasn’t it; there was something else; something more, bigger than the book and far greater than explanation. Finally, after a several month hiatus, she did post. Pictures of her smiling at a table of unfamiliar faces. Another was a  selfie with other authors. And one of her in an embrace with a very fashionable woman, their gaze hazy and seductive. But the pictures of her alone were different; sad and undeniably sullen. They were [slightly] melancholy; nothing remotely like those posted when her book was initially released. She, in those forty-eight months of absence, had transformed. She had changed. She was different. Her once soft regal image hardened. The metamorphosis was extreme and absolute.

I studied the pictures, seeing something different with each view, then sent the following message:

Hey Author X,

It’s been a while. You aren’t posting much, so I guess you’re working on your next masterpiece. I hope all is well. 

I waited…

Initially, I checked her posts daily, hoping there would be something there, not necessarily a response to me, but something that would let me know where she, as a complete entity, was. Days turned to weeks; weeks into months; and the months faded into the distant orbs of a mysterious darkness that birthed then concealed concern and renewal.  I returned to her novel, scanning through the pages, searching for some clue that would make sense of the moment. There was nothing.

Then as autumn gave way to winter she posted…

… I’m tired of people claiming to love me… tired of the judgment, the childhood memories… of being locked in dark spaces… of being told it was for my own good.  That stayed with me; the loneliness, the quiet emptiness, even when I step into the light. I tried to hold it together, laying in that asylum’s bed, strapped down; the demons picking — stabbing — at my soul. I just want to disappear; preserve my sanity. I want to lose this insanity and not apologize for taking my life back. I want to slay Goliath…

She ranted for three pages, a rhapsody revealing the many secrets she kept locked away. Those who knew her from afar, as I did, would never have known. Those who knew her intimately were equally clueless. Her words (in her post) that roared across the page, perhaps made little sense, but they were her words, her feelings, and they poured out for the social media world to see and, of course, judge.

And I, at a loss for words, whisper-sang the following tune:

*Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide no escape from reality
Open your eyes look up to the skies and see
I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy
Because I’m easy come, easy go
A little high, little low
Anyway, the wind blows
Doesn’t really matter to me, to me…

Mama, life had just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away

Mama, …
Didn’t mean to make you cry
If I’m not back again this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters

Too late, my time has come
Sends shivers down my spine
Body’s aching all the time
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth
Mama, ooh (anyway the wind blows) I don’t want to die
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all…

I messaged her words of encouragement, hope, and support. I wished her happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy Birthday. The messages piled like sand on a dune. Then as 2018 transitioned to 2019 her social media pages were gone, and with that, so was she.

If I’m not back again this time tomorrow … Carry on, carry on.

I think about her every so often. I wonder where she is and how she’s doing. I still imagine her at the dark antique lacquered desk, maybe trading coffee for bourbon, breathing life into inanimate apparitions.  I periodically checked her page, hoping, I suppose, that she’d be there in words or pics. But she remains hidden. I check for any clues that she is on the cusp of releasing a new book. I wait. We wait.

I hope she realizes that no matter the depth of darkness, the quiet, or the storm, she is never alone. She has moved mountains with her words and left impressions on our hearts.  And when she opens her eyes and looks up to the skies she’ll see that we were always there… waiting.

*From: Bohemian Rhapsody — Queen