The institute will be conducted over four weeks (May 30-June 24, 2016) at the Ernest J. Gaines Center on UL Lafayette’s campus. Each week participants will partake in lectures, group discussions, movie screenings, and field trips. Monday through Thursday of each week, morning sessions will involve lectures and group discussions. One afternoon session each week will be dedicated to a film screening of an adaptation of one of Gaines’s works. Two to three afternoons each week will be reserved for participants to conduct archival research using the Ernest J. Gaines papers and the archival materials housed within the Louisiana Room in Dupré Library.
WEEK ONE (Week of May 30)
Topic: Introduction to the Work of Ernest J. Gaines, Influences, and Regional Antecedents
Visiting Scholars: John Lowe and Gary Holcomb
Field Trip: Cane River Historical Park and National Heritage Area
The week will introduce participants to the work and life of Ernest J. Gaines. This will come through a screening of the short documentary, An Obsession of Mine, and through lectures by John Lowe, Gaines’s biographer, and Gary Holcomb, Professor of African American literature. Participants will read Gaines’s first novel, Catherine Carmier (1964) and his most recently published work, A Lesson before Dying (1993), which returns to many of the same themes of as education, manhood, the changing land and community in his debut work. Gaines has stated, at various times, the influence of many authors in his writings. Therefore scholars and participants will read and discuss these selected influences: Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (1862), Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time (1925), a collection of Hemingway’s short stories, and Lyle Saxon’s Children of Strangers (1937), a novel by a Louisiana native that carries strong similarities to Catherine Carmier because of its focus on a Creole community in Louisiana. Film screenings: two short documentaries on Gaines: An Obsession of Mine (2009) and a 1972 film done in California.
WEEK TWO (Week of JUNE 6)
Topic: The Jim Crow South and Residual Effects of Slavery in the Twentieth Century
Visiting Scholars: Richard Yarborough and Keith Byerman
Field Trip: New Orleans
The week will serve as a platform for discussions on slavery in the South and its long-term effects, which can be seen, as Gaines mentions, throughout the twentieth century and into our own. Scholars will begin the week by leading participants in discussions on two major works of Gaines: Of Love and Dust (1967) and Bloodline (1968). The following days we will interpret themes and structure in short stories by Arna Bontemps, Charles Chesnutt, and Richard Wright and in the novel Absalom, Absalom! (1972) by William Faulkner. Throughout, we will discuss how these writers relate to Gaines and his work, highlighting thematic issues such as living in a Southern racist society (including the experiences of mixed-race individuals and of inter-racial relationships), protests against racial discrimination, the residual effects of slavery (such as share-cropping) and social conflicts within the Southern context. Film screening: The Sky is Gray.
WEEK THREE (Week of JUNE 13)
Topic: Civil Rights, Religion and Gender
Visiting Scholars: Thadious Davis and Herman Beavers
Field Trip: Vermilionville Living History & Folk Life Park
During the week we will explore gender, religion, and protest in Gaines’ fiction, specifically in the novels The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971) and In My Father’s House (1978). This week’s scholars, Thadious Davis and Herman Beavers, will lecture and lead group discussions on the Civil Rights Movement and religion in Gaines’ work. In conjunction with selected works by Gaines, the group will explore the literary legacy of Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923) and James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain (1953) and how their representations of religion and the South thematically relate to Gaines. The week will conclude with discussions on James Wilcox’s portrayals of gender and religion in the South in Modern Baptists, published in 1983. Film screening: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
WEEK FOUR (Week of JUNE 20)
Topic: Integration, Representation, History and Writing
Visiting scholars: Marcia Gaudet and Maria Hebert-Leiter
Field Trip: New Roads, LA and Oscar, LA (Pointe Coupee Parish)
During this concluding week, we will feature two prominent scholars who will lead discussions on several themes and styles in Gaines’s works in relation to more contemporary authors. We will speak to the continued relevance and universal nature represented in Gaines and selected authors: under-represented individuals and community in A Gathering of Old Men, the depiction of voice and land in Southern author Tim Gautreaux’s Welding with Children (1999), the history and the mechanization of the land and the after-effects of slavery, so pervasive in Gaines’s works and in Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season (2012). The week will wrap up with the thoughts of Gaines himself in Mozart and Leadbelly (2005), which reveals how the author views himself as a writer especially in relation to American, Southern, and African American literature. Following discussions on Wednesday and Thursday, participants will present their research projects to the rest of the Institute. Film screening: A Gathering of Old Men.
WEEK ONE FIELD TRIP (Week of MAY 30)
Participants will visit this area, located in Natchitoches Parish, to see the land that Saxon writes about in his early 20th-century work, Children of Strangers. A nationally known area, Cane River consists of Oakland Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, and Melrose Plantation (the plantation where Saxon lived and wrote his work, and also former home of the folk artist, Clementine Hunter). Cane River is dedicated to the historic preservation of the Cane River region and its three -hundred year relationship with the Creole culture.
WEEK TWO FIELD TRIP (Week of JUNE 6)
Walking Tour of Literary New Orleans
- Literary New Orleans — New Orleans Conventions & Visitor Bureau
- New Orleans: Ten Literary Landmarks — Frommer’s
New Orleans is not just a Mardi Gras parade destination and home to abundant restaurants. This city is steeped in rich literary heritage, from writers just passing through to those who made their permanent home in areas like the French Quarter and the Garden District. Participants will take a field trip to New Orleans to learn about selected writers and the distinctive culture they lived in. Guides will point out places where Southern authors such as Faulkner, Saxon, George Washington Cable, Tennessee Williams, Kate Chopin, Grace King and others spent time living and writing.
WEEK THREE FIELD TRIP (Week of JUNE 13)
Vermilionville is a living history museum and folklife park dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of Acadian, Native American, and Creole cultures, based on the period between 1765 to 1890. The trip will serve as an introduction to some of the types of characters that the participants will encounter in the final week of the Institute. Of interest, Vermilionville will host an exhibit in June called “Black History in the Attakapas Region,” which includes Lafayette and the surrounding areas.
WEEK FOUR FIELD TRIP (Week of JUNE 20)
Pointe Coupee Parish and Oscar, LA
On this trip to Pointe Coupee Parish, participants will see and experience the land that inspired novels like A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Mrs. Jane Pittman. This region is about one hundred miles northwest of New Orleans along the False River. Dr. Gaines was born and raised in this area on River Lake Plantation, and it is this plantation that inspired his work. He and his wife, Mrs. Diane Gaines, returned to Oscar and bought some of the land that his family once worked. They moved and restored the tin-roofed schoolhouse and chapel building from Gaines’s childhood to their property and and continue to work diligently to maintain the small cemetery where the workers of River Lake Plantation were buried. Tentative plans include visiting the Gaines in their home.