The Big Read 2016 celebrates 'A Lesson Before Dying'

This year’s edition of The Big Read celebrates “A Lesson Before Dying” with a series of events the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries is conducting during the next month.

The Ernest J. Gaines novel was published in 1993 by Vintage Books, an imprint of Alfred A. Knopf. Here is how the publisher summarizes the story, 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 persuade 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.”

Gaines is a writer-in-residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “A Lesson Before Dying” has received wide acclaim, such as the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1993 and an Oprah Book Club selection in 1997. HBO turned the novel into a movie in 1999, and it won two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award.

The events the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries has planned during the local Big Read include (admission free unless otherwise noted):

  • Feb. 11, 7 p.m., Columbus State University Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, 1519 Stark Ave. – Lecture by John Wharton Lowe, the Barbara Methvin Professor of Literature at the University of Georgia. Considered one of the foremost experts on ethnic American and Southern literature, Lowe’s biography of Gaines is scheduled to be published this spring.
  • Feb. 16, 7 p.m., Columbus Public Library, 3000 Macon Road – A visit with Gaines via Skype. Speaking from his hometown of Pointe Coupee Parish, La., the 83-year-old author will discuss the novel and his career. Attendees may ask him questions.
  • Feb. 18, 7 p.m., RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, 900 Broadway – Theatrical performance of Richard Wright’s novel “Black Boy,” dramatizing his journey from childhood innocence to adulthood in the Jim Crow South, the same time period and setting as “A Lesson Before Dying” and with similar themes. A discussion will be conducted before and after the show. Tickets are $19 and available at the RiverCenter box office.

Click here for a link to the full listing of events.

The Big Read, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, was designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. Since the pilot program started with 10 communities in 2006, the NEA has awarded more than 1,100 Big Read grants.

The local Big Read is presented by the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries in cooperation with the Muscogee County Friends of Libraries, the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, the Columbus Museum, the Columbus State University Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, WRBL News 3 and Sunny 100.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.