A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
(Vintage Contemporaries)

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A Lesson Before Dying, is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s.  Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot out in which three men are killed; the only survivor, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death.  Grant Wiggins, who left his hometown for the university, has returned to the plantation school to teach.  As he struggles with his decision whether to stay or escape to another state, his aunt and Jefferson's godmother persuade him to visit Jefferson in his cell and impart his learning and his pride to Jefferson before his death.  In the end, the two men forge a bond as they both come to understand the simple heroism of resisting—and defying—the expected.

Ernest J. Gaines brings to this novel the same rich sense of place, the same deep understanding of the human psyche, and the same compassion for a people and their struggle that have unformed his previous, highly praised works of fiction.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About Ernest J. Gaines

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Ernest Gaines was born in 1933 on the River Lake Plantation, Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. Although he was educated in California (at San Francisco State College and Stanford University) and currently lives in San Francisco, his fiction is dominated by images and characters drawn from rural Louisiana, where he was born and raised. In recounting the struggle of African Americans to, in his words, "escape the influence of the past" and "just? be men," Gaines has skillfully crafted a small, but powerful body of modern American fiction. Unquestionably the best-known and probably the best, of Gaines's novels is The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), a fictional account of the long life of a black woman born a slave on a Louisiana plantation. Through the stories of the many fascinating people who touch Jane's life, Gaines presents not only a moving perspective on the struggles of African Americans but also a social history of the United States since the Civil War. It is a testimony to Gaines's skill as a writer and storyteller that many people believe Jane Pittman was a real person. Indeed, the novel is frequently misshelved in the biography section of bookstores. Of Gaines's other works, Bloodline (1976), a collection of five short stories, stands out for its powerful portrayals of young men in search of self-respect and dignity. His lnovel A Lesson Before Dying, won the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award.
Published January 20, 2004 by Vintage. 272 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Education & Reference, Travel, Westerns, Cooking. Fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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When a white liquor- store owner is killed during a robbery attempt, along with his two black assailants, the innocent black bystander Jefferson gets death, despite the defense plea that ``I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.'' Hog.

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Publishers Weekly

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Gaines's NBCC Award-winning novel tells of the relationship forged between a young black man on death row and his teacher in 1940s Louisiana.

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Publishers Weekly

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When Jefferson's own attorney claims that executing him would be tantamount to killing a hog, his incensed godmother, Miss Emma, turns to teacher Grant Wiggins, pleading with him to gain access to the jailed youth and help him to face his death by electrocution with dignity.

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In a small town of Bayonne, Louisiana, Jefferson is on trial for the murder of a white store owner.

Aug 05 2011 | Read Full Review of A Lesson Before Dying (Vintag...


In Lesson schoolteacher Grant Wiggins, the novel's narrator, tells how his aunt—Miss Emma's lifelong friend—pressures him into visiting death row to gain Jefferson's confidence and reaffirm his sense of dignity.

Apr 26 1993 | Read Full Review of A Lesson Before Dying (Vintag...

The Roanoke Times

Slowly, Grant reaches Jefferson, hoping to impart the last lesson in life: that he is a worthwhile being.

Feb 08 2010 | Read Full Review of A Lesson Before Dying (Vintag...

Spirituality & Practice

She prevails upon Grant Wiggins, the plantation community's black school teacher, to meet with Jefferson in order to convince him to walk tall.

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She hopes that Grant, the first black in the area to attend college and to do so on contributions from his people, will lead Jefferson to see he's a man and not the beast he's been informed he is.

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American Diplomacy

From Amazon.com Book Review, "With the publication of this book, Capote .

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