On October 31, 2010, at the age of 78, internationally renowned novelist Ernest Gaines welcomed visitors to the newly opened Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. With the donation of his original manuscripts and collected papers to the center, Gaines ensured that the Louisiana of his youth would continue to inspire and educate students, scholars and readers all over the world for generations to come.
Born and raised in rural Louisiana, Gaines fled poverty and lack of opportunity at age 15 when he moved to the West Coast and immersed himself in writing. After earning literary grants and fellowships, he published such celebrated works as The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Gathering of Old Men and A Lesson Before Dying. International awards and film adaptations of his books further enhanced Gaines’ acclaim as a brilliant, skilled writer.
Gaines returned to Louisiana decades after he left, but in his heart, he’d never left at all. The memories and people of his Louisiana youth were seared in his soul. Gaines felt their presence and used his pen to share their truths: their strength, dignity, passion and resilience in the face of hardship and injustice.
Another famous author once claimed, “You can’t go home again.” However true, Gaines alerts us to an opposite truth…that home is a place you can never leave. Life experience underscores his knowledge that our lives are inexorably linked to where we’re from—that place of our youth where we grew up and experienced life without filters. In that context, housing Gaines’ collected manuscripts and documents in Louisiana is indeed a homecoming. The images and voices in his books are from this place, and to truly understand those images and voices, it is necessary to visit the place where they were born.
Ernest Gaines … Peoples Health Champion.
If you think about it, you probably know a Champion.
A Champion may even be you. Nominate yourself or someone you know—like a relative, co-worker or neighbor—as a Peoples Health Champion.