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Welcome to the Ernest J. Gaines Center Academic Blog

The Ernest J. Gaines Center is an international research center focused on the novels and short stories of Dr. Ernest J. Gaines. Through his fiction, Dr. Gaines strived to document and, in his way, preserve examples of living as a Black sharecropper on a South Louisiana Plantation. Gaines’s work is translated into more than 14 languages, and excerpts of his novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman was taught in French schools throughout the 1990s. Sections from this novel were used to discuss American slavery and the United States Civil War. His ability to build relatable worlds and characters through is fiction highlights certain human qualities that transcend location and ethnicity and strikes at the heart of agrarian communities’ experiences at the dawn of the industrial-agricultural age globally.

Dr. Gaines’s novels take place from the mid-1860s through the late 1970s. His work covers many themes such as Civil Rights, the agricultural south, rural education, education inequality, family structure, religion, community uplift, and community outrage, just to name a few. Because Dr. Gaines’s work relates to so many different topics, it has been a subject of study for many decades. The purpose of this blog is to encourage and continue academic interest in the work of Ernest J. Gaines and making research related to his books more easily accessible to those beyond traditional collegiate settings.

Contributors to this blog include students and scholars interested in Dr. Gaines’s novels and topics identified in Dr. Gaines’s work. Due to formatting, all of the contributor's names will be added to the blog title. If you are interested in contributing, contact Cheylon Woods at cheylon.woods@louisiana.edu for more information.

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"Faith, Folklore, and Fun: Spirituality, Folk Magic, and Folk Practices in Black America" by Francisco Rodriguez

Jaime Bergeron ... -- Tue, 08/29/2023 - 10:33am

Every culture possesses a body of traditional knowledge and patterns of behaviors which are utilized to navigate the many windfalls, challenges, and vicissitudes of the world and African Americans, with their long, complex, and multi-layered history of presence in the US are no exception. Ernest Gaines, as an ingenous capturer of the experience of Black Americans in this country then and now, utilizes his inherited traditions to great effect in his stories to better illustrate and contextualize these lives.

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"Black Southern Femininity in 'A Lesson Before Dying'" by Melanie Johnson

Jaime Bergeron ... -- Tue, 07/11/2023 - 8:43am

In Ernest J. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying, many things strike me having finished the book. One thing in particular is the way the novel ends with a bittersweet moment of hope despite the profound unfairness of Jefferson, an innocent Black man's execution at the hands of the state in rural 1940's Louisiana. The novel's protagonist, Grant Wiggins and the white sheriff's deputy, Paul are able to see the humanity in each other despite being on opposite sides of the social spectrum and law. That said, the female characters in the novel are arguably the most complex and interesting.

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"The Black Barbershop in 'The Tragedy of Brady Sims'" by Hailey Hanks

Jaime Bergeron ... -- Mon, 07/10/2023 - 2:51pm

In 2017, two years before his death, Ernest J. Gaines published The Tragedy of Brady Sims, a novella that opens with the titular character shooting and killing his newly convicted son in the Bayonne courthouse. Unlike his earlier work—especially A Lesson Before Dying, A Gathering of Old Men, and The Autobiography of Miss Jane PittmanBrady Sims has yet to be brought into many scholarly discussions, a gap which seems reflective only of time and certainly not of the novella’s richness and depth.

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" A Black American cares, and will always struggle..." literary representations of historical disenfranchisement tactics and the fight for Civil Rights By Cheylon Woods

Cheylon -- Tue, 03/09/2021 - 9:27am

In the novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Dr. Ernest J. Gaines creates the main character, Jane, who has lived through every historical event to happen to African Americans in the South. Jane functions as a living history book that provides personal reflections on American Slavery (the Antebellum Era), Reconstruction, and civil rights, and the Civil Rights Movement in rural South Louisiana.

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Treasures in the Ernest J. Gaines Collection by Andrie Morris

Cheylon -- Tue, 11/24/2020 - 12:54pm

To what extent is it possible to get inside the creative mind of a writer? No single source can unequivocally take us to the core of the literary imagination that draws us to it. But if we take as a helpful starting point materials once held in the writer’s possession and gifted to a repository of their choosing, we will feel closer to an answer.

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"To Lie with Those Who Have No Marks: Mount Zion Cemetery and the Preservation of a People" by Jordan J. Richardson

Cheylon -- Thu, 10/29/2020 - 10:21am

Dr. Ernest J. Gaines is internationally known as the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and A Lesson Before Dying. He authored additional award-winning novels and short stories that became made-for-television movies. Though fictional, Gaines' novels and short stories take place at the forefront of several historical events. Through his words, Dr. Gaines preserved a way of life for African American, Cajun and Creole tenants and sharecroppers in Oscar, Louisiana.

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"State of Marshall Plantation," by Delicia Daniels

Jordan Richardson -- Wed, 10/07/2020 - 8:47am

State of Marshall Plantation

In Gaines's A Gathering of Old Men, Johnny Paul finds himself reminiscing about an old memory when he notes:

Thirty, forty of us going out in the field with cane knives, hoes, plows--name it. Sunup to sundown, hard, miserable work, but we managed to get it done. We stuck together, shared what little we had, and loved and respected each other (91-92).

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“Through Her Comes a World of Change: Jane Pittman, Black Lives Matter, and Calling Communities to Action” By Em Tielman

Jordan Richardson -- Thu, 09/24/2020 - 10:38am

The life and literature of Ernest J. Gaines continues to instruct folks of all races about the struggles and the triumphs of black people living in South Louisiana. His novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, is a work of historical fiction that may now be understood as a foreshadowing of some of the distinct characteristics of the now-global Black Lives Matter movement. The novel’s introduction explains that the coming narration has been reproduced from interviews between Miss Jane and an educator who eagerly requests to hear her story, one that is not provided in the textbooks from which he teaches. The novel spans from just after the American Civil War, through the Reconstruction and Jim Crow Eras, and into the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It is not until after two important characters, Ned Douglass and Jimmy Aaron, become martyrs of movements for racial justice that Miss Jane fully embraces her role as a leader, though she had been one all along.

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