About the Author

Ernest J. Gaines

Ernest Gaines ImageGaines' father left the family early, and his mother moved to New Orleans to find work. This left the boy in the care of his disabled aunt, whose strength returns in Tante Lou and several of Gaines' other female characters. Barely into his teens, Gaines began to write and stage steadily more ambitious plays at the local church.

In 1949 Gaines rejoined his mother in Vallejo, California, where she had found work in California's great post-World War II economic boom. He discovered the downtown Carnegie Library and plundered it for books with two necessary qualities: "Number one, they had to be about the South, and two, they had to be fiction."

The 1950s ushered Gaines from high school to junior college, to an Army tour in Guam, to college back in California, and finally into the writer Wallace Stegner's prestigious creative writing program at Stanford, where classmates included Wendell Berry and Ken Kesey. He soon won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award for a novel in progress.

That novel developed into 1964's Catherine Carmier, followed three years later by Of Love and Dust, which coincided with a fellowship for Gaines from the National Endowment for the Arts. He broke through to a wider public with The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

More well-received novels followed, including A Gathering of Old Men in 1983, shortly after the start of his years teaching writing at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. There he conceived the idea for his sixth novel, A Lesson Before Dying—though a decade would pass before it saw print.

A Lesson Before Dying (1993) surpassed even the rapturous reception accorded Miss Jane Pittman. The Pulitzer jury shortlisted Gaines again. He walked off with the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award. A MacArthur Fellowship finally gave him some financial security, and he married Dianne Saulney, a Miami attorney who grew up in—where else?—Louisiana.