Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Year of Ernest Gaines

As I mentioned in an my Reading Goals post, 2017 will be my year of Ernest Gaines here on the blog. I am very excited to participate in the challenge to read all of the works of Gaines that I can get my hands on. The only Gaines book that I have read is A Lesson Before Dying and I absolutely loved it. It's been long enough ago that I would do well to reread it as part of my year long challenge. Taking a whole year to read six novels and two short story/essay collections is completely doable. Looking at this challenge being broken up over a year makes me much less anxious about whether or not I can complete this challenge. I am ready and rearing to go! I am going to try and read these in order of their release. If anyone is interested in doing a buddy read on any of these let me know. I'd love to have a discussion about them. Without further ado, here are the jewels that I will be reading in 2017. 

Catherine Carmier  By the author of A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Catherine Carmier is a compelling love story set in a deceptively bucolic Louisiana countryside, where blacks, Cajuns, and whites maintain an uneasy coexistence.
Update March 13, 2017: You can read my review of Catherine Carmier here. 

After living in San Francisco for ten years, Jackson returns home to his benefactor, Aunt Charlotte. Surrounded by family and old friends, he discovers that his bonds to them have been irreparably rent by his absence. In the midst of his alienation from those around him, he falls in love with Catherine Carmier, setting the stage for conflicts and confrontations which are complex, tortuous, and universal in their implications.

Of Love and Dust  This is the story of Marcus: bonded out of jail where he has been awaiting trial for murder, he is sent to the Hebert plantation to work in the fields. There he encounters conflict with the overseer, Sidney Bonbon, and a tale of revenge, lust and power plays out between Marcus, Bonbon, BonBon's mistress Pauline, and BonBon's wife Louise.

Bloodline  In these five stories, Ernest 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. Stories included are: A Long Day In November, The Sky Is Gray, Three Men, Bloodline, and Just Like A Tree.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman  Miss Jane Pittman. She is one of the most unforgettable heroines in American fiction, a woman whose life has come to symbolize the struggle for freedom, dignity, and justice. Ernest J. Gaines’s now-classic novel—written as an autobiography—spans one hundred years of Miss Jane’s remarkable life, from her childhood as a slave on a Louisiana plantation to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. It is a story of courage and survival, history, bigotry, and hope—as seen through the eyes of a woman who lived through it all. A historical tour de force, a triumph of fiction, Miss Jane’s eloquent narrative brings to life an important story of race in America—and stands as a landmark work for our time.

In My Father's House  A compelling novel of a man brought to reckon with his buried past. In St. Adrienne, a small black community in Louisiana, Reverend Phillip Martin—a respected minister and civil rights leader—comes face to face with the sins of his youth in the person of Robert X, a young, unkempt stranger who arrives in town for a mysterious "meeting" with the Reverend.  In the confrontation between the two, the young man's secret burden explodes into the open, and Phillip Martin begins a long-neglected journey into his youth to discover how destructive his former life was, for himself and for those around him.

A Gathering of Old Men  A sheriff is summoned to a Louisiana sugar plantation, where he finds one white woman, about 18 old black men, all carrying shotguns, and one dead Cajun farmer. The sheriff is sure he knows who has killed the Cajun, but threats and violence fail to change their stories.

A Lesson Before Dying  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.

Mozart and Leadbelly   In this collection of stories and essays, the beloved author of the classic, best-selling novel A Lesson Before Dying shares the inspirations behind his books and his reasons for becoming a writer. Told in the simple and powerful prose that is a hallmark of his craft, these writings by Ernest J. Gaines faithfully evoke the sorrows and joys of rustic Southern life. From his depiction of his childhood move to California — a move that propelled him to find books that conjured the sights, smells, and locution of his native Louisiana home — to his description of the real-life murder case that gave him the idea for his masterpiece, this wonderful collection is a revelation of both man and writer. Included in this collection are essays & short stories as well as an interview with Gaines at the end. The essays are: Miss Jane and I, Mozart and Leadbelly, A Very Big Order, Bloodline in Ink, Aunty and the Black Experience in Lousianna, and Writing a Lesson Before Dying. The short stories included are: Christ Walked Down Market Street, The Turtles, Boy In The Double-Breasted Suite, Mary Louise, and My Grandpa and the Haint. 

Update August 29, 2017

How lucky am I that during my year of Ernest Gaines, he releases a novella?! I was also lucky enough to be granted an eARC of The Tragedy of Brady Sims. I was able to read and review it, and I absolutely loved it. It's just more evidence that Ernest Gaines is a literary treasure. You can read my review here

About My Author of the Year

Born to a sharecropping family, Ernest Gaines was picking cotton in the fields by age nine and only attended school five or six months a year. When he was fifteen, he moved to California to join his mother who had relocated during World War II, and began writing. He attended San Francisco State University, served in the army, and won a writing fellowship to Stanford University. Gaines has been a MacArthur Foundation fellow, inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, awarded the National Humanities Medal, and inducted into the French Order of Arts and Letters as a Chevalier. He and his wife split their time between Louisiana and San Francisco.

You can also watch one of these interviews with Ernest Gains. The first is the abreviated version of the second. 

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