Synopses & Reviews
In this collection of stories and essays, the beloved author of the classic, best-selling novel A Lesson Before Dying
shares with us the inspirations behind his books, how he came to choose the vocation of a writer, the childhood in rural Louisiana that he continually re-creates in his fiction, and his portrayal of the black experience in the South.
Told in the simple and powerful prose that is a hallmark of his craft, these writings faithfully evoke the sorrows and joys of rustic Southern life. They begin with Gaines’s move to California at the age of fifteen to complete school. Missing the Louisiana countryside where he was raised by his aunt propelled him to find books in the library that would invoke the sights, smells, and locution of his native home. Gaines never agreed with the authors’ portrayal of black people: “either she was a mammy, or he was a Tom,” he explains in “Miss Jane and I.”
From that initial disappointment stemmed a literary career that has spanned forty years and includes five novels, which in the words of USA Today reviewer Suzanne Freeman have “made the smallest truths, the everyday sorrows of hard choices, add up to moments of pure illumination.” These are cherished and popular books like The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Gathering of Old Men, and the 1993 blockbuster A Lesson Before Dying, which has sold more than two million copies around the world, won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and in 1997 was picked for Oprah’s Book Club. It has been continually selected for City Read programs and praised by critics as “an instant classic, a book that will be read, discussed and taught beyond the rest of our lives” (Charles R. Larson, Chicago Tribune). In the essay “Writing A Lesson Before Dying,” Gaines describes the real-life murder case that gave him the idea for his masterpiece.
Included here are short stories that transport us to the rural Louisiana of the 1940s and the influences that shaped him–most lastingly, the people and the places of Gaines’s own past. This wonderful collection of autobiographical essays and fictional pieces is a revelation of both man and writer.
From the beloved author of "A Lesson Before Dying" comes a delightful collection of short stories and autobiographical essays.
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
Introduction by Marcia Gaudet and Reggie Young
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
Christ Walked Down Market Street
Boy in the Double-Breasted Suit
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