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Gaines’ life, work remembered during U.S. Postal Service ceremony at UL Lafayette

University of Louisiana at Lafayette writer-in-residence emeritus Ernest J. Gaines’ novels earned critical acclaim, readers across the world, literary awards and, most recently, a U.S. postage stamp featuring his portrait.

Gaines, who died in November 2019 at age 86, placed words over accolades, however. “I don’t need public attention, and I’m not interested in written criticism of my work – but public attention is gratifying,” he once explained. Gaines needed to write, particularly about “this Louisiana thing that drives me,” and the region near River Lake Plantation in Oscar, La.

That’s one reason Gaines might have found the U.S. Postal Service’s commemoration of his life and work in the Atchafalaya Ballroom of UL Lafayette’s Student Union gratifying. The recent first-day-of-issue ceremony signaled the official unveiling of his stamp, the 46th in the postal service’s Black Heritage Series.

But the event also brought together his family members, friends, former students and readers, who heard writers, scholars, academics and public figures extoll Gaines and his work. A sampling of quotes from several of the ceremony’s speakers is below.

Dianne Gaines, widow of Dr. Ernest J. Gaines

“This is such an honor and a joy to be here, for this great honor acknowledging the talent and achievement of Ernest Gaines. We are so proud, all of us are here today, because we are proud of him. All of us are proud of him. We loved Ernest and we are proud.”  

Donald L. Moak, member of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors

“Ernest Gaines lived a uniquely American life, and told uniquely American stories. His novels would give a voice to individuals who were too often overlooked and remind us of the dignity present in every human being.”

Dr. Joseph Savoie, president of University of Louisiana at Lafayette

“Now, through the work of the Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University – here, in this little postage stamp of place, in a Louisiana that he held his mirror up to so we could all see ourselves more clearly – these principles endure. We’re so proud and honored to be stewards of this immense literary legacy and the powerful lessons that it carries.”

Cheylon Woods, director of UL Lafayette’s Ernest J. Gaines Center

“He helped many students find their narrative voice and put their passions to paper. His ability to encourage and nurture someone’s passion, I believe, was one of his strongest traits. My fondest memory or Ernest J. Gaines is an inscription he wrote when he signed a copy of the Tragedy of Brady Sims for me. It reads, ‘Thank you for taking care of my words.’”

Dr. Keith Clark, professor of English and African American Studies, George Mason University

“It is so fitting that an artist who began his literary tutelage writing letters is now bestowed with the honor of a first-class postage stamp, a tribute to the power of letters to still connect us across states and continents and time zones even in a dizzyingly digitized age that too often minimizes the potency of paper.”

View video from the ceremony.

Photo caption: Donald L. Moak, U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, Dianne Gaines, widow of Dr. Ernest J. Gaines, and Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president, are shown beside an image of Dr. Gaines’ postage stamp. The University’s writer-in-residence emeritus, who died in 2019, was celebrated during a recent postal ceremony in the Student Union that signaled the official unveiling of the stamp. Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette