Statements and condolences on the passing of local author Ernest J. Gaines

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) presents a 2012 National Medal of Arts to Ernest Gaines. Photo by Pete Marovich/ Getty Images

Award winning author Ernest J. Gaines, passed away on Tuesday, at the age of 86.

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.


Statement from the Ernest J. Gaines Center:

“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.”


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.”


UL Lafayette statement on the death of Dr. Ernest J. Gaines:

The following can be attributed to Dr. Joseph Savoie, University of Louisiana at Lafayette president.

“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 literary giant who found his muses among the sugar cane fields of his native Pointe Coupee Parish, and who shared those stories with readers around the globe. He was an approachable, yet demanding, teacher who for a quarter century as a professor and writer-in-residence attracted aspiring writers to the University and helped them find their own inspirations. He was a believer in the power of words to inspire unflinching, honest conversations about painful corners of our collective past. He was a visionary who, following his retirement in 2010, worked to establish the Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University. We are deeply humbled that he chose us as the stewards of his legacy. Ernest Gaines, a good man who wrote well, was also an extraordinary and inspiring figure in the American literary landscape. My wife Gail and I join the entire University family in mourning his passing. He will be missed, but his words will live on.”

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