Acclaimed Louisiana novelist Ernest Gaines dies at 86


President Barack Obama awards Ernest Gaines the 2012 National Medal of Arts for his contributions as an author and teacher, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA) — has confirmed the death of renowned Louisiana author Ernest J. Gaines.

Gaines is most known for his 1993 book “A Lesson Before Dying”. Though it is a fictional work, the story is loosely based on the true story of Willie Francis, who was sentenced to death by the electric chair twice in Louisiana, in 1945 and 1947.

For years, Gaines has been heavily involved with the University of Lafayette. The school made this announcement today:

On November 5, 2019, Dr. Ernest J. 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. Born in 1933, on a plantation near New Roads, Louisiana, Dr. Gaines rose to prominence through his nine novels and several short stories reflecting the lives of African Americans, Cajuns, and Creoles living in the rural South. An award-winning author whose works have been translated into over 14 different languages, Dr. Gaines was the first Louisiana Humanist of the Year, a MacArthur fellow, Medal of the Arts recipient, and the holder of numerous honorary degrees. His novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, was the first neo-slave narrative and was required reading in French schools. A Lesson before Dying spent time on top of several literary best-seller lists and Oprah Winfrey’s 1997 book club. After receiving a Masters of Fine Arts from Stanford University and residing in California’s Bay Area, Dr. Gaines returned to Louisiana where he would live out the rest of his days. In 1981, he began working in the Creative Writing program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette until his retirement from teaching in 2010. After retiring, the University began the Ernest J. Gaines Center, an international research center and archive dedicated to preserving the life and works of the author. 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.

The Ernest Gaines Center took to Twitter to express their sentiments to the family after the pioneer’s passing.

 Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the following statement on the passing of award-winning author Ernest J Gaines:

“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. Born in poverty in Pointe Coupee, Ernest would go on to author 10 novels and numerous short stories, to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and win the National Book Critics Circle Award for his acclaimed novel A Lesson Before Dying. He was a writer in residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for more than 20 years. Earlier this year, Donna and I had the chance to visit with Ernest and his wife after a Sunday drive. It’s a memory we will both cherish as part of our long friendship. Please join us in elevating him, his wife and his family in your prayers.” 

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