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Ernest J. Gaines to Speak

On Wednesday, March 24, acclaimed African-American author Ernest J. Gaines will engage in a conversation via videoconference with members of the public on the St. Thomas and St. Croix campuses of the University of the Virgin Islands. Gaines, the author of "A Lesson Before Dying," which is the Territory's 2010 Big Read selection, will read portions of his work aloud, and will engage in a live question and answer session.

Gaines will speak from the Pointe Coupee Parish Library in New Roads, La., at 6 p.m. The session will be carried live to the Administration and Conference Center on the St. Thomas campus and to Evans Center Room 401 on the St. Croix campus.

The University of the Virgin Islands Information and Technology Services department and the University's Reichhold Center for the Arts, in conjunction with the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts, received the 2010 The Big Read grant.

Ernest J. Gaines was born on Jan. 15, 1933, on the River Lake Plantation in Oscar, a hamlet in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, which is the Bayonne of all of Gaines' fictional work.

Gaines will announce the winners of the UVI and the Virgin Islands Department of Education's "A Lesson before Dying" essay contest.

In 2008 The National Endowment for the Arts named his novel, "A Lesson Before Dying," as part of its Big Read National Reading Program. Published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1993, it has sold two million copies. "A Lesson Before Dying" is the story of a young black man wrongly condemned to Louisiana's electric chair by a white jury in 1948 and of the teacher who tries to help him meet his death - as a man and not as "a hog," the characterization given him by his defense attorney's summation to the jury.

Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1994, "A Lesson Before Dying" was awarded the Best Fiction Award by the National Book Critics Circle, the Southern Writers Conference, and the Louisiana Library Association. In October 1997 the novel was selected for Oprah's Book Club. HBO premiered the TV film in 1999, which subsequently received two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Made-For-Television Movie and Outstanding Writing for a Mini-Series or Movie (South African writer Ann Peacock).

Arrangements for the appearance of Ernest J. Gaines were made through Tanya Bickley Enterprises, Inc. ( of New Canaan, Conn. For more information contact UVI - Big Read coordinator Rachelle Shells at (340) 693-1367.