"I Heard the Voices.Of My Louisiana People": A Conversation with Ernest Gaines

By Ferris, William | Humanities, July/August 1998 | Go to article overview

"I Heard the Voices.Of My Louisiana People": A Conversation with Ernest Gaines


Ferris, William, Humanities


MEETING ERNEST GAINES

Alice Walker introduced me to the work of Ernest Gaines in 1971. At that time I was teaching at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, where Alice also lived. Alice had sent Gaines her manuscript of The Third Life of Grange Copeland, and he in turn shared his galleys of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman with her. Alice spoke enthusiastically about both Gaines's literary talents and his generosity in helping younger writers like herself.

The following year I began teaching American and Afro-American Studies at Yale University where I used Gaines's newly published Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman as a text in my class on "American Literature and the Oral Tradition." To my delight Gaines accepted my invitation to visit Yale, and during a master's tea in Calhoun College he read passages from his new novel and spoke about his craft as a writer. His soft, gentle voice brought his characters to life with special power.

Several years later I visited Gaines at his apartment in San Francisco. It was a memorable experience as he showed me beautiful black-and-white photographs he had taken of scenes from his birthplace in New Roads, Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. Great oak trees, country roads, and the homes of family and friends familiar to him from childhood hung lovingly framed in his front hall.

During the interview we sat together in his study where a small photo of William Faulkner hung above his desk. He recalled his childhood in Louisiana and the beloved aunt who had raised him. We also spoke of Southern storytellers and how their voices have shaped his fiction.

Since our interview we visited again during a reading Gaines gave at the University of Mississippi and during a symposium at the Sorbonne on "AfroAmericans in Europe." With each visit I am struck by the gentle voice of this large man who has shaped such beautiful portraits of the black and white characters in his fiction. Both as a writer and as a teacher he has immeasurably enriched our lives, and this interview offers a sense of the vision that inspires his fiction.

-William R. Ferris, Chairman, NEH

LEAVING THE SOUTH: I left the South when I was quite young because I could not get the kind of education my people wanted me to get. But I can still write about it because I left something there, you see. I left a place I could love. I left people there that I loved.

When a lot of black writers and white writers leave the South, they want to totally wipe it out of their minds. They don't want to remember it. Or if they remember it, they remember it as a place that was not a happy place in their lives. When Richard Wright left this country and got involved in something else, the writing that he did about this place just did not come through as truly as when e was here. So, I can write about it still because I left something there. Living in San Francisco is not like living behind an iron curtain. I go back all the time. And there are many Louisianans here in San Francisco. When I was writing The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, my grandmother was alive and here in San Francisco. She was always cooking Louisiana food all the time, gumbo all the time, jambalaya all the time, shrimp creole all the time.

I have a very strong imagination. I can sit at my desk, see roads, bayous, towns, and houses, and hear voices and dialogs. But I do go back.

THE CAMERA AND THE MIND'S EYE: I always take a camera when I go back to Louisiana. I take both black-andwhite and color photographs.

Most of these pictures were taken ten or twelve years ago. I've been trying to get some good shots.of railroad tracks lately. I've shot several railroad tracks in my part of Louisiana around Baton Rouge, but I haven't gotten the perfect track yet. I've gotten some good roads and lines of houses, and rivers and bayous, but I haven't gotten the tracks that I want. Sometimes I might look at the photographs when I write, but I seldom ever do because I think that my mind's eye sees the area just as well as that photograph does and maybe even better, because the photograph is limited. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"I Heard the Voices.Of My Louisiana People": A Conversation with Ernest Gaines
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.