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.
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, please contact Cheylon Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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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
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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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.