“I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be.”
—Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying
I met Ernest J. Gaines, who died on November 5 at the age of eighty-six, at the Louisiana Book Festival a couple of years ago. After a talk he gave from his wheelchair, I introduced myself and told him I was trying to be a writer. “Keep trying and reading,” he replied. It was said with the kindness and warning of an elder that knew trying (i.e. many bad drafts and rejections) is a precursor to being a writer.
Gaines represented a pride in the South and the African American experience of his rural Louisiana childhood through his writing. Born in Oscar, Louisiana, the son of sharecroppers, Gaines graduated from San Francisco State University and attended graduate school at Stanford University. He was the author of eight novels, including The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (Dial Press, 1971), A Gathering of Old Men (Knopf, 1983), and A Lesson Before Dying (Knopf, 1993), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1993. In addition, Gaines was the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and a MacArthur “Genius” grant.
If you’re ever in Louisiana and have some time on your hands, stop by the Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Gaines donated his early papers and manuscripts through 1983 there, and it is expected that the center will acquire the remainder of his papers.NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
All Metro Detroit writers looking for a quiet space to write should be aware of Trinosophes. This spacious gallery and café is conveniently located just outside of the clatter of Downtown Detroit, and has been a haven for me, my friends, and a number of my mentors to write. Tuesday through Saturday the café offers a variety of vegan and gluten-free brunch options and good coffee. The art space has a gallery and an elevated stage equipped with a piano and more than enough space for a small band (or some poets eager to read their work!). Speaking of music, next door there is a record store for those interested in musical nostalgia. And across the street is the historic Eastern Market, which offers immediate access to local vendors, coffee shops, and more.
When it comes to literary events, Trinosophes is home to the Urban Echo Poetry Slam series and the Detroit Youth Poetry Slam series, and hosts book release parties (Franny Choi celebrated the release of her poetry collection Soft Science last April) and readings. On October 12 and 13, Trinosophes hosted the Detroit Art Book Fair, bringing together dozens of independent publishers, artists, writers, and collectors who presented their books, zines, and prints to the public. Whether you’re looking for a place to write, listen to poetry or live music, or get inspired by artwork, Trinosophes is a great place to visit.Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
“I once read about how Sheryl Crow told Bob Dylan she was having trouble writing her next album. Dylan told her to learn the songs that made her want to be a musician and play those during concerts. I think what Dylan was telling Crow was to remember how a song was made by living inside it, recreating it herself. After Crow did that, she wrote her album. Years ago I worried I was losing the impulse that made me want to write, so I typed out poems: Sharon Olds’s ‘Satan Says’ and David Trinidad’s “Driving Back From New Haven.” I typed Denise Duhamel’s “Things I Could Never Tell My Mother,” and so many others. I wanted, as Dylan suggested, to feel inside my chest and with my fingers the poems that made me want to write. Eventually I bound them into an anthology: a poetry mix tape. I know I’m not the first to type other people’s poems to learn from them, but I do know that retyping the work that’s important to me brought back that thrill only being inside a poem can generate. Now when I need inspiration, I open my mix tape, or I find another poem and start typing.”
—Aaron Smith, author of The Book of Daniel (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019)