Friday, April 1, 2022
129 East Main St.
Ernest J Gaines was born on January 15, 1933, on River Lake Plantation in the small south Louisiana town of Oscar in Pointe Coupee Parish. In Gaines’s childhood, the center of his world was Cherie Quarter, the former slave quarter on River Lake Plantation, where five generations of his family had lived. Gaines joined his parents in California at the age of fifteen because there was no high school available to him in that part of rural Louisiana. In 1964, Gaines published his first novel, Catherine Carmier, in response to the lack of a Black perspective throughout Southern literature published through the 1960s. Gaines achieved both critical and popular acclaim in 1971 with his novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. The 1974 movie adaptation won nine Emmy Awards, including Cicely Tyson’s Best Actress Award for the title role.
Gaines’s works are translated into nineteen languages. Four of his works have been made into films (The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, 1974; “The Sky Is Gray,” 1980; A Gathering of Old Men, 1987; and A Lesson Before Dying, 1999). In addition, Gaines’s life and work are the subjects of three documentary films, numerous scholarly books, and doctoral dissertations. Among his other honors, Gaines was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, received National Governor’s Association award for lifetime contribution to the arts, and the Louisiana Center for the Book Writer of the Year Award. He also received the Aspen Prize for Literature, the Cleanth Brooks Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, The Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature, the Celebration of Black Writing Lifetime Achievement Award and the Northstar Award, Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation Legacy Award. In 2015, he and his wife Dianne Saulney Gaines received the Foundation for Historic Louisiana Award for preserving the Cherie Quarter Church and Cemetery at River Lake Plantation. After his retirement, the Gaines’s built a home on property along False River that was once part of the plantation where he was born.
This panel will look at the impact Dr. Gaines had on the literary world and the community that profoundly influenced his fiction. We will discuss how his work and his lifelong mission continue through the Ernest J. Gaines Center and have space to share our memories and impressions of the man and the author.