Wednesday, April 7, 2010

HONORING ERNIE GAINES

During the fall of 1989, I was selected to be a member of a Creative Writing class taught by Ernest J. Gaines, a renowned writer of southern literature who was then Writer-in-Residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in Lafayette, Louisiana.  I was a writer in a group dominated by graduate students who hadn’t learned very much about the art of criticizing constructively their classmates’ works in progress, and I endured a not-so-good time listening to the various criticisms, which sometimes bordered on mean-spiritedness.  On the other hand, Ernie Gaines was a kind and constructive critic who gently led us through our short stories with a firm hand and a wry sense of humor, advising at every turn of phrase to “practice, practice, practice,” and “revise, revise, revise.”  I left the class with an A and a polished short story that had been debunked by all the students but blessed by Ernest Gaines.  A few years later, the story appeared in a literary magazine published by Xavier University in New Orleans.

Ernie Gaines, the consummate storyteller, inspired me to continue working on my craft and gave me two good writing rules to follow:  “believe in your work,” and “revise, revise, revise.”  He has been honored many times since that fall class he selected me to be a member of the class of struggling writers.  Several months ago, I received a notice that University of Louisiana Lafayette is honoring Ernie Gaines by building an international Center for Scholarship on Ernest Gaines and his work.  The Center will provide a space for scholars and students to work with Gaines papers and manuscripts.  It will expand the collection on Gaines to include all books, journal articles, interviews, theses, and dissertations on his writings. The complete collection of published translations of Gaines’s writings will also be included. 

Another program of note to be sponsored by the Center is the Ernest J. Gaines Speakers and Writers Series that will bring major scholars and writers to ULL.  Perhaps the Series will challenge the Sewanee Writers Conference held each year on the University of the South campus! 

The Ernest Gaines Center is located on the third floor of Edith Garland Dupre Library, and programs will be offered as contributions to support them are donated.  The director of the Gaines Center, Dr. Marcia Gaudet, wrote the definitive biography of Ernest Gaines.

I visualize the Center as one that resembles the Tennessee Williams Center here at Sewanee where drama programs abound.  In 1983, Tennessee Williams left his literary rights to the University of the South and royalties helped build the Tennessee Williams Center, a performance and teaching facility.  This Center also provides Tennessee Williams teaching fellowships that bring renowned people involved in the Arts to the campus.

How heady it is to live in the literary atmosphere created by both of these outstanding writers each year!  
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