Ernest Gaines and Southern Literature

So sorry guys. It looks like I fell off the map a bit. Life is busy and really hard sometimes, but I’m finally seeing the light (and feeling more inspired than ever)!

I’m currently spending the week at my alma mater, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, studying at the Ernest J. Gaines Center for the 2nd annual Ernest J. Gaines Teaching Institute. Ten teachers from all over the south were chosen to come together this week and talk about how to better incorporate Ernest Gaines’s literature into our curriculums.

Most of the teachers in the Institute are college professors of Southern Literature or African American Literature. Needless to say, I’m a bit out of my league in this room, but I’m learning SO MUCH. It’s like a crash course in teaching novels in an effective way. Plus, I’m feeling so inspired by our book discussions, and it’s only the second day.

In preparation for this week, I read four of Ernest Gaines’s novels. (In fact, those are the only books I’ve read in the last two months. Sigh.)  These novels are so interesting to me, partly because I’m from rural Louisiana, so I can totally connect to the setting, but also because these novels tell a story that the history books skip–Jim Crow Louisiana from the African American point of view.

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Publication Year: 1997
Genre: Adult Fiction, Southern Lit
My Rating: 3 Stars
From the Publisher:
A Lesson Before Dying, is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s. Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot out in which three men are killed; the only survivor, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Grant Wiggins, who left his hometown for the university, has returned to the plantation school to teach. As he struggles with his decision whether to stay or escape to another state, his aunt and Jefferson’s godmother persuade him to visit Jefferson in his cell and impart his learning and his pride to Jefferson before his death. In the end, the two men forge a bond as they both come to understand the simple heroism of resisting—and defying—the expected.
Ernest J. Gaines brings to this novel the same rich sense of place, the same deep understanding of the human psyche, and the same compassion for a people and their struggle that have informed his previous, highly praised works of fiction.

A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines

Publication Year: 1992
Genre: Adult Fiction, Southern Lit
My Rating: 2.5 Stars
From the Publisher:
Set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation in the 1970s, A Gathering of Old Men is a powerful depiction of racial tensions arising over the death of a Cajun farmer at the hands of a black man.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines

Publication Year: 1982
Genre: Adult Fiction, Southern Lit
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
From the Publisher:
This is a novel in the guise of the tape-recorded recollections of a black woman who has lived 110 years, who has been both a slave and a witness to the black militancy of the 1960’s. In this woman Ernest Gaines has created a legendary figure, a woman equipped to stand beside William Faulkner’s Dilsey in The Sound And The Fury. Miss Jane Pittman, like Dilsey, has ‘endured,’ has seen almost everything and foretold the  rest. Gaines’ novel brings to mind other  great works The Odyssey for the way  his heroine’s travels manage to summarize the American history of her race, and Huckleberry  Finn for the clarity of her voice, for her rare capacity to sort through the mess of years and things to find the one true story in it all.

Bloodline: Five Stories by Ernest J. Gaines

Publication Year: 1997
Genre: Adult Fiction, Southern Lit, Short Stories
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
From the Publisher:
In these five stories, Gaines returns to the cane fields, sharecroppers’ shacks, and decaying plantation houses of Louisiana, the terrain of his great novels A Gathering of Old Men and A Lesson Before Dying. As rendered by Gaines, this country becomes as familiar, and as haunted by cruelty, suffering, and courage, as Ralph Ellison’s Harlem or Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.

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