Georg Engel's Ernest J. Gaines: A Lesson Before Dying To understand or not to understand, that is the question...

His childhood and education:

Raised by his maternal aunt, Augusteen Jefferson, who served as the principal role model for his best known character, Miss Jane Pittman, Ernest Gaines is the oldest of 12 children. At the age of fifteen, he rejoined his mother and step-father in California to continue his education since there was not a high school he could attend in Pointe Coupee Parish and because it was against the law in Louisiana in the 1940's for people of color to enter public libraries!

Ernest Gaines visited a public library for the first time at age 16. He says, "I discovered the Russians, Turgenev, Gogol, who spoke of the peasants. Then the French, Flaubert, Maupas-sant, Zola. But no one was telling me the story of my people. Thus, a teenager, I decided to write. At San Francisco State University I continued reading, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. I studied creative writing at Stanford University with Wallace Stegner and worked and worked."