ERNEST JAMES GAINES was born on January 15, 1933, on a plantation in Oscar, Louisiana, to Manuel and Adrienne Gaines. Gaines's earliest education probably came from his family and their stories. In 1948, he moved with his family to Vallejo, California, where he attended Vallejo Junior College. He served in the army for two years before entering San Francisco State College, by which time he was already writing short stories. In 1956 his first story was published in a small magazine in San Francisco called Transfer. After graduating in 1957, Gaines attended a creative writing program at Stanford University for one year.
Gaines's first novel, Catherine Carmier ( 1964), is set, like most of his work, in the rural South. Gaines derived much inspiration from Russian writers such as Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Gogol, and this novel seems based upon Turgenev's Fathers and Sons in its depiction of a young black man who returns to his native plantation after gaining an education in the city and who falls in love with the daughter of a black Creole farmer. Gaines is concerned with the complex relationship between rural and urban living, and the economic and social effects of changing agrarian lifestyles. His South is a South in transition. He captures the cadences of black, Creole, and Cajun dialects while examining a variety of personal and communal relationships. Gaines frequently writes about women, as in the case of the eponymous Catherine Carmier. His women are generally older, strong‐ willed, religious, and, perhaps, unprepared for social change.
Gaines did not receive much public attention until his second novel, Of Love and Dust, appeared in 1967. This work, narrated in the first person, is more concerned with black/white relations than its predecessor and, in the end, is a clear condemnation of the traditional racism of the Old South. A collection of stories, Bloodline ( 1968), succeeded Of Love and Dust, containing five long stories, three of which were published prior to Catherine Carmier; one of these, "A Long Day in November," was issued separately in 1971. In that year Gaines's most successful novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman