Ernest Gaines, UL's Writer-In-Residence Emeritus, was honored May 24, 2008.

The University of Louisiana awarded Writer-In-Residence Emeritus Ernest J. Gaines an honorary Doctorate of Letters during Spring 2008 Commencement ceremonies. Dr. Gaines has also received Honorary Doctorate degrees from Brown, Tulane, Miami (FL), Sewanee, Bard College, Louisiana State, Xavier, Loyola, Dillard, Savannah College, Whittier College, and others.

Dr. Gaines is one of the most important American authors of the 20th century. His novels examine the African American experience in South Louisiana, and frequently take place within Creole, Cajun, and old South settings in the region. Gaines' novels include A Lesson Before Dying (1993) which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1993, and was selected for Oprah's Book Club in 1997; The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971); A Gathering of Old Men (1971); Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essays (2005); In My Father's House (1978); A Long Day in November (1971); Bloodline (1968); Of Love and Dust (1967); and his first novel, Catherine Carmier (1964).

Several of Dr. Gaines' novels and short stories have become films, including A Lesson Before Dying, HBO (1999) starring Don Cheadle, Cicely Tyson and Mekhi Phifer, and which won an Emmy for "Outstanding Made-For-Television Movie"; A Gathering of Old Men, CBS Television (1987); The Sky Is Gray, American Short Story Series, PBS (1980); and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, CBS Television (1974).

Gaines has received The National Humanities Medal, and one of the coveted MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, known as the “Genius Grants.” He is a member of The American Academy of Arts & Letters, a Fellow of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and a Chevalier in the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He was named "Humanist of the Year" (1993), by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. In 2000 he was also named Louisiana Writer of the Year, and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation annually presents The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence in his honor. His books have been translated into 17 languages, and are perennially selected as required reading in schools and colleges across the globe.

Gaines was born to a sharecropper's family near New Roads-- the "Bayonne" in several of his novels. After serving in the Army, he was graduated from San Francisco State College in 1957. He then won a creative writing fellowship to Stanford University, where his classmates included Wendell Berry, Ken Kesey, and Tillie Olsen. In 1981 he accepted an invitation from The University of Louisiana to serve as a visiting professor in Creative Writing. In 1983, Dr. Gaines became the University's Writer-In-Residence, strengthening UL's position as a writers' campus, as the faculty had previously included best-selling author James Lee Burke, and the late Pulitzer Winner John Kennedy Toole. Dr. Gaines retired from UL in 2004 and was named Writer-In-Residence Emeritus.

Recently, the University committed $250,000 to establish The Ernest J. Gaines Center in the third floor of the Edith Garland Dupré Library. The Center will coordinate research related to Dr. Gaines, and possibly other African-American writers in Louisiana. It will also will pursue publishing ventures in cooperation UL's Center for Louisiana Studies. Future funding sources include donations, grants, and royalties from an upcoming book on Gaines to be published by the Center for Louisiana Studies.

Dr. Gaines has already donated many of his papers, manuscripts and memorabilia to the University. These include handwritten drafts of some of his published works, and the pens he used to write The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and Of Love and Dust. These items are currently housed in the Jefferson Caffery Reading Room of Dupré Library.

Gaines' work has been the subject of 15 doctoral dissertations at various universities. More than 200 scholarly articles and 12 books have been published examining the author, and his work.

The award was given during commencement for Graduate School in the CajunDome on May 24 at 5:30 p.m.