Ernest J. Gaines, distinguished author of A Lesson Before Dying, joined more than 300 members of the Brookdale and Monmouth County communities during the final event of The Big Read via video-conference, on April 22. Gaines shared the background stories that led to his writing of this award-winning novel, and many attendees were able to speak with him after his presentation.
Brookdale students, along with students and teachers from Long Branch Middle School, Raritan High School, Red Bank Charter School, and the Corner Stone Day School, attended the video conference.
During his presentation, Gaines compared his writing process to a train ride. When he began writing the book, he knew how he would begin the story (similar to his departure point on a trip), and how he would end it (his final destination). But, he didn’t know the details in-between; that is, what would happen along the way. There was one element, however, that was essential, according to Gaines. The notebook given to the main character would be used in the story to define his humanity. Revealing the humanity of the death row inmate was vital to the story, because it would give him the right to die with dignity.
According to Cynthia Gruskos, assistant to the executive director, Chhange, “The notebook, and hearing the story in the voice of the main character, demonstrated the power of the written word. Gaines was able to brilliantly demonstrate how words can influence people and transform their perspectives of others and themselves.”
The Big Read was a three month-long initiative led by the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education at Brookdale Community College (Chhange). Book clubs, arts organizations, libraries, college classes and community members came together to read, discuss and enjoy related films, speakers and arts events.
“We were able to offer more than 50 programs county-wide which engaged students at every level, teachers and faculty, as well as members of the community” said Dale Daniels, executive director of Chhange. “Thousands of people participated in reading A Lesson Before Dying and joined in on the various associated activities. The conversation with Mr. Gaines was the perfect culminating activity to a very successful project.”
Video recordings of many Big Read events will be available on Brookdale’s website in the coming months.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.