A Lesson Before Dying

In a 1940s Louisiana courtroom, a black man is on trial for the murder of a white liquor store clerk.  The accused, a young man named Jefferson, is quickly convicted and sent to wait in a cell for the day of his execution.  The majority of the novel describes the interim of Jefferson's sentence, during which Grant Wiggins, a local schoolteacher, begins visiting him in prison. 

A historically and culturally important book, A Lesson Before Dying explores themes of justice, identity, and faith.

“And that's all we are Jefferson, all of us on this earth, a piece of drifting wood.  Until we each of us, individually decide to become something else.  I am still that piece of drifting wood, and those out there are no better.  But you can be better. ”

Ernest J. Gaines is a novelist and professor.  His books include A Lesson Before Dying, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and A Gathering of Old Men.  Born in 1933 in Louisiana, Gaines grew up living on land that was once a plantation, in the houses that were the slave quarters.

Published:  1993
Length:  254 pages
Set in:  Louisiana, United States