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Ernest J. Gaines to receive National Medal of Arts

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President Barack Obama will present author Ernest J. Gaines, University of Louisiana at Lafayette writer-in-residence emeritus, with the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government.

Gaines will receive the National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday afternoon.

Other recipients of the award include New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint; Star Wars director George Lucas; musician Herb Alpert; comedienne, director and writer Elaine May; and playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner. Twelve people also will receive the 2012 National Humanities Medal during the event.

First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to attend the awards ceremony, which will be live streamed at WH.gov/Live at 1:30 p.m. An archive of the video will be available after the event on the White House YouTube page.

Gaines will be honored for his contributions as an author and teacher. “Drawing deeply from his childhood in the rural South, his works have shed new light on the African-American experience and given voice to those who have endured injustice,” states a White House press release announcing the award recipients.

His novels include A Lesson Before Dying, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Gathering of Old Men, Of Love and Dust and Catherine Carmier.

The Ernest J. Gaines Center, located in UL Lafayette’s in Edith Garland Dupré Library, is an international center for scholarship on the writer and his work.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Gaines’ third novel published in 1971, is the first-person narrative of a fictional 110-year-old woman born into slavery. The book earned the writer a widespread audience, critical acclaim and was adapted into a TV movie that won nine Emmy Awards.

A Lesson Before Dying, published in 1993, is another of Gaines’ most popular and critically acclaimed works. It tells the story of Jefferson, a young illiterate man condemned to death. The novel was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s popular book club and won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

The National Medal of Arts is a White House initiative managed by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency, supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. A dozen people will receive the National Humanities Medal on Wednesday, including writer Frank Deford, novelist and screenwriter Joan Didion, and actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith. 

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