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Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essaysby Ernest J. Gaines
Synopses & Reviews
Mozart and Leadbelly
In the early sixties, many of my colleagues were leaving the United States for Europe, Africa, Mexico, and so on, where they planned to write their great novels. They felt that America had become too money-crazed for them to live here and concentrate on their work. I was supposed to leave in the summer of 1962 with a man and his wife for Guadalajara, Mexico. I had been working on Catherine Carmier for three years but was getting nowhere with it. I had written it from an omniscient point of view, a first-person point of view, and a multiple point of view. I had changed the plot many times. Nothing seemed to work, and I figured it was because I needed to get away from the country, as my friends were doing. I was working at the post office during the summer of 1962 when my friend and his wife left for Mexico; I told them that I had to make some more money first, and that I would join them before the end of the year.
But something happened that summer of 1962 that would change my life forever. James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi. Every night we watched the news--my family, my friends, and I--and it seemed that we cared for nothing else or spoke of nothing else but the bravery of this one young man. It seemed that when we spoke of his courage, I felt family and friends looking at me. Maybe it was just my sense of guilt. One night in October or November, I wrote my friends in Mexico a letter: "Dear Jim and Carol, I am sorry but I will not be joining you. I must go back home to write my book. My best wishes, Ernie."
I contacted an uncle and aunt in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and they told me I could come and stay as long as I wanted to. So on January 3, 1963, a friend of mine drove me to the train station in Oakland, California, and fifty-two hours later I was in Baton Rouge. I had come back to Louisiana twice since leaving in 1948, but each time for only a week or two, and both times I lived with relatives out on the plantation where I was born. This time it would be for six months, and this time I would stay in town. I was determined to live as all the others did, and if that meant demonstrations and a run-in with the police, then let it be so. But at that time very few civil rights demonstrations were going on in Baton Rouge. And if the police did show up, they stood back watching but never tried to interfere physically with the gathering.
Uncle George and my Aunt Mamie had a four-bedroom house, and there were other people living in the house: their son, Joe, and three other nephews. Each Sunday we would drive out into the country to the old place where I was born and raised until I left for California. We would visit the old people, who would have dinner waiting for us--chicken, greens, rice, beans, a cake--and we would have lemonade and all sit down in the kitchen eating and talking. Then I would leave them and I would walk through the quarter back into the fields, and I would cross the rows where the cane had been cut looking for a stalk of cane that might have been left behind. On finding one I would peel it with my knife and chew it slowly, enjoying the sweetness of it. I would look back across the rows and remember when my mother and father and all the others in the quarter used to work these same fields.
And I would turn and look tow
A collection of short fiction and autobiographical essays from the award-winning author of A Lesson Before Dying includes five stories, set in Louisiana, that capture the joys and sorrows of rural Southern life, accompanied by prose works that chronicle his move to California at fifteen, the beginnings of his life as a writer, and the people and places he has encountered. 35,000 first printing
Collects five stories, set in Louisiana, that capture the joys and sorrows of rural Southern life, accompanied by prose works that chronicle the author's life as a writer, and the people and places that he has encountered.
About the Author
Ernest Gaines was born on a plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish near New Roads, Louisiana, which is the Bayonne of all his fictional works. He is writer-in-residence emeritus at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In 1993 Gaines received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for his lifetime achievements. In 1996 he was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, one of France’s highest decorations. He and his wife, Dianne, live in Oscar, Louisiana.
Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying, A Gathering of Old Men, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Bloodline, and Of Love and Dust are available in Vintage paperback.
Table of Contents
Essays: Miss Jane and I — Mozart and Leadbelly — A very big order: reconstructing identity — Bloodline in ink — Aunty and the black experience in Louisiana — Writing A lesson before dying — Stories: Christ walked down Market Street — The turtles — Boy in the double-breasted suit — Mary Louise — My grandpa and the haint — In his own words: Ernest J. Gaines in conversation — A literary salon: oyster/shrimp po'boys, chardonnay, and conversation with Ernest J. Gaines: Ernest J. Gaines, Marcia Gaudet, and Darrell Bourque.
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