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Ernest Gaines (1933–2019), celebrated novelist

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Author of “A Lesson Before Dying” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman"

Ernest Gaines was the celebrated author of “A Lesson Before Dying” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” Born on a plantation in Louisiana, he made his way to California as a teenager because the local high school did not allow African American students. After serving in the Army, he earned a place in Stanford University’s creative writing program. His novels took an honest poetic look at black struggles in America. He gained some success with 1971’s “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” but even more when his 1993 novel “A Lesson Before Dying” was featured in Oprah Winfrey’s book club. Both novels were adapted into movies.  

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Died: Tuesday, November 5, 2019 (Who else died on November 5?) 

Details of death: Died at the age of 86. 


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Gaines said it took years for family and friends to understand his need to write: “They all thought I was nuts because hardly any of them had read a book, a novel. Back in a place like this, you read the Bible. Nobody in the country had books. They didn't know what you were talking about, and even if they did, they had not read black writers.” —He told the Advertiser in 2014 

What they said about him: “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. We are all blessed that Ernest left words and stories that will continue to inspire many generations to come.” —Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards 

“Ernest Gaines once said he wanted his epitaph to read: 'He was a good man who wrote well.' And indeed he was — but to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, he was far more. He was a believer in the power of words to inspire unflinching, honest conversations about painful corners of our collective past.” —University of Louisiana at Lafayette President Dr. Joseph Savoie 

Full obituary: Lafayette Daily Advertiser  

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