Gaines, the award-winning author of A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, passed away at home on Tuesday.

By Meghan Overdeep
November 6, 2019
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The literary world is mourning the loss of one of its greats this week. 

Ernest Gaines, the award-winning author of A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 86. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation confirmed to the Associated Press that he died in his sleep of cardiac arrest at his home in Oscar, Louisiana.

Gaines, the son of sharecroppers and the eldest of 12 children, was born on a plantation in Pointe Coupee, Louisiana. His childhood served as inspiration for his numerous works, which gave a voice to the struggles of poor African Americans living in the rural South. He later bought the plantation on which he was raised and lived there until his death.

“Ernest Gaines was a Louisiana treasure,” foundation president and CEO John Davies said in a statement. “He will be remembered for his powerful prose that placed the reader directly into the story of the old South, as only he could describe it. We have lost a giant and a friend.”

Four of his works were made into television movies, and the 1974 CBS production of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, starring Cicely Tyson, earned nine Emmy awards. He taught at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as a writer-in-residence since the 1980s. A Lesson Before Dying, which Gaines published in 1993 and earned him a “genius grant” by the MacArthur Foundation, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

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"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," Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement.

Thanks for all you gave us, Mr. Gaines. Rest in peace.

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