Pointe Coupee native Ernest Gaines to be memorialized on U.S. postage stamp

Staff Report

Ernest Gaines, the Pointe Coupee Parish native who became one of the most celebrated authors in 20th century American literature, will be memorialized on a U.S. postage stamp set for issue in January.

The Gaines stamp will mark the 46th in the U.S. Postal Service’s Black Heritage series. It will feature an oil painting, based on a photograph that portrays Gaines wearing his trademark beret, according to a news release from University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The Ernest Gaines stamp is the 46th in the U.S. Postal Service’s Black Heritage series.

The Oscar native’s literary works include the 1983 novel “A Gathering of Old Men” and “A Lesson Before Dying,” a 1993 novel for which he won the National Humanities Medal.

“A Lesson Before Dying,” a Pulitzer Prize nomination, was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s book club. It tells the story of an illiterate man wrongfully condemned to death.

Gaines died in Oscar in November 2019 at age 86.

He worked as a writer-in-residence emeritus at UL, where he taught creative writing from 1983 until he retired in 2010.

Gaines was perhaps best known for “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” a 1971 novel on the struggles of African Americans, as told by its narrator, a woman named Jane Pittman.

It became a highly acclaimed CBS made-for-TV movie in 1974 that starred Cicely Tyson in the title role.

Tyson became one of the most highly celebrated actresses of the latter half of the 20th century on her achievement in that role.

It was those memories that fueled Gaines’s creativity and literary skills that enabled him to create fictional characters, such as Pittman, who represented real-life experiences and struggles of African Americans.

Gaines never lost his love for Pointe Coupee Parish, even after he moved to California during his adulthood, said Cheylon Wells, director and archivist of the Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. The appreciation for Pointe Coupee Parish fueled his decision to return to his native area, where he spent the rest of his life, she said. 

Gaines’ novels, which have drawn comparisons to the writings of William Faulkner and Charles Dickens, have been published in at least 17 languages. It’s the sort of widespread appeal that can be traced to his ability to “prompt conversations about humanity,” said Cheylon Woods, an assistant professor at UL-Lafayette who directs the university’s Ernest J. Gaines Center, an international center for scholarship on Gaines and his fiction.