Ernest James Gaines was born on January 15, 1933, on the River Lake Plantation, Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. His 1993 novel, A Lesson Before Dying, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Gaines has been a MacArthur Foundation fellow, awarded the National Humanities Medal, and inducted into the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) as a Chevalier. Although he was educated in California (at San Francisco State College and Stanford University), his fiction is dominated by images and characters drawn from rural Louisiana, where he was born and raised. Unquestionably the most recognizable, and probably the best, of Gaines's novels is The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), a fictional account of the long life of a black woman born a slave on a Louisiana plantation. Through the stories of the many fascinating people who touch Jane's life, Gaines presents not only a moving perspective on the struggles of African Americans but also a social history of the United States since the Civil War. It is a testimony to Gaines's skill as a writer and storyteller that many people believe Jane Pittman was a real person. Indeed, the novel is frequently misshelved in the biography section of bookstores. In 1993 Gaines also won the Dos Passos Prize and in 2000 he won the National Humanities Medal. Of Gaines's other works, Bloodline (1976), a collection of five short stories, stands out for its powerful portrayals of young men in search of self-respect and dignity.