Ernest J. Gaines, the celebrated author and long-time educator at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, died earlier this month at his home in Oscar, Louisiana. He was 86 years old.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement that “it is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to Ernest J. Gaines, a native Louisianan who used his immense vision and literary talents to tell the stories of African Americans in the South. We are all blessed that Ernest left words and stories that will continue to inspire many generations to come.”
Ernest Gaines was born on the River Lake Plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, where his ancestors had toiled as slaves. His parents were sharecroppers. At the age of 15, he moved to California because the local high school did not allow African Americans to enroll.
Gaines was a graduate of San Francisco State University. He earned a master of fine arts degree at Stanford University.
In 1981, he began teaching in the creative writing program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette until his retirement from teaching in 2004. After retiring, the University began the Ernest J. Gaines Center, an international research center and archive dedicated to preserving the life and works of the author. Each year the center gives out the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. The award recognizes the outstanding work of rising African-American fiction writers.
Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette stated that Gaines “was a believer in the power of words to inspire unflinching, honest conversations about painful corners of our collective past.”