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Gaines Nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature

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Ernest Gaines, UL Lafayette’s writer-in-residence and internationally known author, has been nominated for literature’s most prestigious award - the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Known for such works as “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” “A Gathering of Old Men,” and “A Lesson Before Dying,” Gaines is being praised by literary leaders across the country.

The nomination was registered with the Nobel Committee in Stockholm, Sweden, earlier this year with the lead letter from Charles Rowell, professor of English at Texas A&M University and editor of the black literary magazine “Callaloo.” Supporting letters came from Oregon, New York, Louisiana, Kentucky and North Carolina.

“ Ernest Gaines has contributed in numerous ways to contemporary world literature,”wrote Rowell in his letter of nomination. “Perhaps his most obvious gift is his extended and refined construction of the novel as an oral, rather than a written, text. That is, his marvelous marriage of storytelling with inscription has helped to extend and refine the novel as a living form.

“ He gave voice to the voiceless and made visible the invisible by inscribing the nobility of a subjugated people in North American literature,” he continued. “With balance eloquence and unadorned elegance, Mr. Gaines depicts his characters with grace and dignity.”

Gaines has been at UL Lafayette since 1981 as first a visiting professor of creative writing. In 1984, he became the university’s writer-in-residence, a position he continues to hold today. His fiction has been taught in high schools and universities since the 1970s.

“ Because of his profound, compelling and brilliant narrative voice, Ernest Gaines is widely recognized as one of the great fiction writers of the twentieth century,” said Dr. Marcia Gaudet, department head for English at UL Lafayette. “Gaines’s recognized contributions to American literature include his mastery of first-person storytelling voice, his use of humor as an essential element of human character, and his major contributions to establishing an African American literary tradition based on memory of the past.”

His work is internationally acclaimed, particularly in the U.S., Europe and Asia and has been translated into French, Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese and Japanese. Four of his books have been made into films, including “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” and “A Lesson Before Dying.”

He has received many prestigious awards including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (popularly known as “the genius award”); the Chevalier in the Order of Art and Letters Award from the French government; and the National Book Critics Circle Award for “A Lesson Before Dying.” This book was selected by television talk show host Oprah Winfrey for inclusion in her book club and subsequently went on to sell about a million copies in 1997.

He was born in the small town of Oscar in Pointe Coupee Parish in 1933. He was raised by an aunt and attended a school near home until he was 15. He then moved to California to join his parents and continue his education. There was no high school available to him as an African American in rural Louisiana at that time.

Gaines went on to graduate from San Francisco State College in 1957 after serving a stint in the U.S. Army. He then won a creative writing fellowship to Stanford University.

He is one of approximately 60 writers from around the world nominated for the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature. The winner will be announced in October. The last American to win the award was Toni Morrison in 1993.