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Reading with Black Coffee

This month's read for the Black Coffee Book Club on Goodreads is A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines (no relation to my knowledge).

This book is Gaines' eighth novel, published in 1993. While it is a fictional work, it is loosely based on the true story of Willie Francis, a young black man sentenced to death by the electric chair twice in Louisiana, in 1945 and 1947.

The story 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 persuades 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.

Some of us saw the movie.

A Lesson Before Dying won the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, the most recent of numerous awards that Gaines has received.

A Wallace Stegner fellow in 1957, a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1967), a Guggenheim fellow (1971), and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellow (1993), Mr. Gaines has steadily been recognized for his achievement as a master of the novel and short story.

In addition, one of his novels, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), has become an undisputed classic of twentieth-century American literature and gave rise to the immensely popular, award-winning TV-movie adaptation starring Cicely Tyson.

I went to my library to pick up a copy of the book, questioning why Mr. Gaines wasn't already in my library, but he will be soon. Maybe it was meant for me to check it out because I found this. I guess I am in good company indeed.

I look forward to immersing myself in this month's read.

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