Left: Author Ernest Gaines (left) and Professor John F. Callahan. Lewis & Clark awarded Gaines an honorary doctorate in humane letters during his fall visit to campus.
Author Ernest Gaines speaks on campus
Character is important to award-winning author Ernest Gaines.
"When I begin writing, I don’t know everything about my story. I don’t want to know everything. I want to discover along with you, the reader," Gaines told his audience in Agnes Flanagan Chapel in November. "I try to breed my characters with character—to help me develop my own character and, maybe, the character of the people who read my work."
Character is also important to members of the Pamplin Society, who receive this honor because of their leadership, high academic achievement, and successful integration of mind, body, and spirit.
That’s why they selected Gaines, a popular and critically acclaimed author, to present the Distinguished Visiting Scholar Lecture, hosted by the Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Society of Fellows.
"For almost four decades, the novels of Ernest Gaines have done for the people of Louisiana—black and white, Creole and mulatto—what the fiction of William Faulkner did for Mississippi," said John F. Callahan, Morgan S. Odell Professor of Humanities. "Gaines is a writer’s writer because of his stunning fidelity to the speech and experiences of the people."
During the lecture, Gaines read excerpts from his most recent novel, A Lesson Before Dying. The book explores the heroism of resisting through the friendship of an innocent black youth on death row and a young black teacher in 1940’s Cajun country.
Gaines started life as a fifth-generation plantation worker in Pointe Coupée Parish, Louisiana. When he was 15, he joined his mother and stepfather in California. He attended San Francisco State University and later won a writing fellowship to Stanford University.
Gaines has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and has been a Wallace Stegner fellow, a Guggehnheim fellow, and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellow. He is currently a writer in residence at the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
"Perhaps the highest compliment I can give his lecture is that afterward I wanted to read the books he had introduced to his audience," said Pamplin fellow Tricia Pearson ’02.
—by Pattie Pace
A look at Gaines’ works
Ernest Gaines’ career spans nearly four decades. His most recent novel, A Lesson Before Dying, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the Best Fiction Award of the National Book Critics Circle.
A Lesson Before Dying (1993)
A Gathering of Old Men (1983)
In My Father’s House (1978)
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971)
Bloodline (1968), a short story collection
Of Love and Dust (1967)
Catherine Carmier (1964)
In 1974, the television adaptation of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman won nine Emmy Awards. Other media adaptations include "The Sky Is Gray," a short story originally published in Bloodline, adapted for public television in 1980, and A Gathering of Old Men, adapted by CBS in 1987. Most recently, HBO adapted A Lesson Before Dying into a prize-winning film.