Ernest J Gaines (1933 – 2019)

Ernest Gaines is an American writer who has won many awards for his novels.

Born January 15, 1933, the eldest of 12 children, Gaines was raised on the plantation in Louisiana where his family had been for five generations. When he was 15 years old he left the plantation to join his mother and stepfather in California, writing his first novel at the age of 17 while babysitting his brother. He attended San Francisco State University, where he published his first short story, then he joined the army for 2 years before attending Stanford University on a writing fellowship.

In 1964 Atheneum published Gaines first novel, Catherine Carmier, a rewrite of the first manuscript he wrote (and burned) at the age of 17. It tells the story of a young black man who leaves Louisiana for California to get an education, then returns to the South.

Gaines second Novel, Of Love and Dust, was published in 1967 by Dial Press. 

The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman, published in 1971 by Dial Press, was made into a groundbreaking television movie that same year, presenting African-Americans characters with a depth and sympathy not previously seen in American television.

In 1972 he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, and in 1993 a MacArthur Fellow 'genius grant.'

Gaines two following novels, A Gathering Of Old Men (1983) and A Lesson Before Dying (1993) were made into movies as well.

Gaines got married in 1993, at the age of 60, to his wife Dianne Saulney, an attorney he met at a book fair, stating that he had put marriage on hold to pursue his publishing career.

A Lesson Before Dying won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, and in 2000 President Bill Clinton presented Gaines with the National Humanities Medal. In 2008 the University of Lafayette established the Ernest J Gaines Center to promote the life and study of his works. In 2013 President Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts.

Gaines spent the last years of his life at the house he and his wife built in Oscar Louisiana, on the land bought from the plantation where he had grown up. He had the building where he attended church and school moved onto the property. He died at his home on November 5th, 2019, of natural causes. He was 86 years old.

Books by Ernest J Gaines