Ernest J. Gaines, internationally acclaimed author, Writer in Residency Emeritus at the University of Louisiana at Layfayette (UL), native and resident of Oscar, Louisiana entered into eternal rest at the age of 86 on November 5, 2019 at his home with his devoted wife of 26 years, Dianne Gaines. Ernest J. Gaines was born on January 15, 1933 on River Lake Plantation in Oscar, Louisiana in Point Coupee Parish. He was the son of Adrean Jefferson and Manual Gaines and was raised by his beloved great-aunt, Augusteen Jefferson. He lived and worked on that plantation until he was fifteen. As a child he wrote letters for the old people who could not write and read letters that they could not read themselves. He absorbed with love the culture in which he lived. At the age of fifteen, his mother and stepfather sent for him to join them in California where they had gone for better work and opportunities. Ernest was the oldest of his siblings born in Louisiana and was not able to continue his education there because of the lack of schools for African American children in certain areas of the South. It was when he went to California that he was first able to go to a library. He loved the library and reading but soon realized that there were no books about him or his people. He concluded that with so many books in the library, it must not be too difficult to write a book and decided to do just that. At the age of sixteen, he convinced his mother to rent a typewriter for him. His first attempt at what would become the novel, Catherine Carmier, was rejected by a New York publisher. In disgust, he burned his work in the backyard; but the desire and determination to write never left him. After attending high school and serving in the United States Army, Gaines returned to college. His first short story, The Turtles, was published when he was a student at San Francisco State. It drew the attention of Dorothea Oppenheimer who became his literary agent until she died. Gaines went on to write ten books of fiction which have been translated in 19 countries. His work, while situated in Louisiana, addresses universal challenges to human dignity of all people. His characters illustrate the human capacity to confront oppression with dignity and strength. 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' life and work have been presented in three documentary films, sixteen scholarly books and 25 doctoral dissertations. Gaines holds honorary doctorates from 19 universities. He was a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Gaines was named the first Louisiana Humanist of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment of the Humanities. In 1993, he received a John D. and Catherine T. MacAuthur Foundation Fellowship. The Chevalier honor was presented to him in Paris by Pamela Harriman, the United States ambassador to France, in 1996. At that time, Gaines was a visiting professor at the University of Rennes, where he taught the first creative writing class in the French University System. Ernest James Gaines, the little boy from Cherie Quarter, went on to receive the National Medal of The Humanities from President Bill Clinton; the National Medal of The Arts from President Barak Obama; the Order of Arts and Letters in Paris; the National Book Critics Circle Award; and numerous other awards. In presenting the National Medal of the Arts at the White House, President Barak Obama praised Ernest J. Gaines "for his contributions as an author and teacher. Drawing deeply from his childhood in the rural South, his works have shed new light on the African-American experience and given voice to those who have endured injustice." Among his other honors, Gaines was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, received the 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 Hurston/Wright Foundation Northstar Award. In 2015, he and his wife, Dianne, received the Foundation for Historic Louisiana Award for the Preservation of the Cherie Quarter Church and Cemetery at River Lake Plantation. After his retirement, Gaines and his wife built a home on property along False River that was once part of the plantation where he was born. For 20 years they have been activists in preserving the cemetery where his ancestors and two of his brothers are buried. Each year on the last Saturday in October, they organize and host a cemetery beautification day honoring all who lived and died in Cherie Quarter. In 2006, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation established the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. The award "honors the legacy of one of America's finest literary treasures." The $15,000 annual prize is awarded to an emerging African American writer selected by a committee of judges who are successful authors and professors. In 2010, UL formally opened the Ernest J. Gaines Center, an international research center on Gaines and his work. Gaines' original manuscripts, papers, all editions and translations of his work, his awards, prizes and other memorabilia are housed in the Center. Mourning his passing, but celebrating his life are his wife of 26 years, Dianne Saulney Smith Gaines; stepdaughters, Maria Smith Williams and Jennifer M. Smith; stepsons, Jonathan A. Smith and Stephen M. Smith; siblings, Lois Young, Charles Colar (Elizabeth), Norbert Colar, Joseph Mack Gaines, Michael Colar (Linda), Deborah Colar (Jesse), Leonard Colar, Sambra Colar, La Vern Colar (Gennisa), Oze Gaines (Linten), Leonard Gaines, Sr. (Checkita), Beatrice Johnson, Helen Harris, Carolyn McCullam (Robert), Mary Thomas (Frank) and Isiah Gaines, Sr. (Patricia); step grandchildren, Annalisa M. Smith and Nicholas M. Smith, LaKeisha Nowicki (Kyle) and Samantha Bencomo (Louis); former daughters-in-law and special friends, Bianka LaBeouf Smith and Sharon Smith Gardner; and many nieces, nephews and friends. Preceded in death by his father, Manuel Gaines; mother, Adrean Colar; stepfather, Raphael Colar; brothers, Lionel Gaines, Eugene Gaines, Nathaniel Gaines and Manuel Gaines, Jr. Visitation and Family Hour Friday, November 15, 2019 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm, Hall's Celebration Center, 9348 Scenic Hwy., Baton Rouge, LA. Visitation continues Saturday, November 16, 2019 12:00 pm until religious service at 1:00 pm, Hall's Celebration Center. Reverend Levert Kemp, officiating. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to: Ernest J. Gaines Center, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, P.O. Box 43539, Lafayette, LA 70504, (337) 482-1848, firstname.lastname@example.org
. or Mount Zion River Lake Cemetery, P.O. Box 81, Oscar, LA 70762. Services entrusted to Hall Davis and Son. www.halldavisandson.com.