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Reading Groups

NEA Big Read: The Novels of Ernest J. Gaines

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4 Monthly Sessions Tuesdays, 6:00 pm EDT - 7:30 pm EDT March 30 to June 29, 2021

Online via Zoom

This reading group has reached its capacity. To join the waitlist, please email Allison Escoto at

Meeting Dates:
3/30, 4/27, 5/25, 6/29

Dr. Ernest J. Gaines’s novels tie together the experiences of people living in rural, Southwest Louisiana with a Justice System that is inextricably linked to the legacy of Plantation-based slavery. Through a cast of dynamic characters in the novels A Lesson Before Dying, Of Love and Dust, A Gathering of Old Men, and The Tragedy of Brady Sims Gaines demonstrates how this Justice System seeks to control black and brown bodies. In this reading group we will explore how this Justice System personally and communally affects these characters, how it shapes the landscape, how it punishes based on racist ideologies, and what measures the characters take to coexist with a system so deeply entrenched into all aspects of their lives.

Each registrant will receive a free copy of A Lesson Before Dying. Please be sure to enter your correct mailing address in order to receive the book. Choose “Register with 4-Book Bundle” to receive your free copy of A Lesson Before Dying along with the three remaining titles at a 15% discount.

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    Ernest J. Gaines

    Ernest J. Gaines

    The author of ten books of fiction, Ernest J. Gaines was the recipient of the National Humanities Medal, National Medal of the Art, Chavalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the government of France, and a National Books Critics Circle Award winner. His brilliant portrayals of race, community, and culture in rural south Louisiana—in particular of both dispiriting and triumphal experiences of Black personhood—made him a greatly respected and beloved world-renowned author.

    Photo Credit: Steven Forster

  • Cheylon Woods

    Cheylon Woods

    Cheylon Woods

    Cheylon Woods is the Assistant Professor and Archivist/Head of Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She received her Masters In Library Science from LSU, her MA in Heritage Resources from Northwestern State University, and her bachelors in History and Political Science from Louisiana Tech University. In 2011 she was awarded an IMLS (Institute of Museum & Library Studies) fellowship through HistoryMarkers (oral history archive based out of Chicago) where she was assigned to work as an Archivist at the Alabama State Department of Archives and History, where she actively worked with communities and prominent figures in the region to fill in information gaps related to African American history in the state of Alabama. Mrs. Woods is a member of Phi Alpha Theta, Society of American Archivists, Louisiana Library Association, and Association of the Study of African American Life and History. She has presented at annual meetings for the Society of American Archivists and worked on numerous public programs for the Alabama Department of Archives and History specializing in preservation and displaying historical documents and artifacts.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Jordan J. Richardson

    Jordan J. Richardson

    Jordan J. Richardson is the Library Specialist II in Ernest J. Gaines Center. Mr. Richardson assists in archiving, giving class and Center tours, research appointments, and social media campaigns. He received his MA degree in Public History from UL Lafayette. He comes to the center after two internships at Vermilionville Living History—working as the registrar intern in the Curatorial Department. He also worked at Edith Garland Dupré Library as the Graduate Assistant for Research & Instruction where he was awarded the 2017 Outstanding Educator Award where he was part of Bringing Life to Your Library Services with 360˚ Virtual Tours presentation at the Louis Users Annual Conference in Baton Rouge, LA. His areas of study are Interpreting Difficult History through digital platforms as well as Antebellum Southern History through Reconstruction.