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.


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