Law and Literature Weekend Seminar: Ernest Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying October 19 - 20, 2018

In its unparalleled run of 24 years, the Alumni College's Law and Literature Weekend Seminar has relied on a highly effective model: gathering professors and participants to study a single work of literature from legal, ethical, and literary perspectives. The results can be exhilarating. Each fall, the School of Law chooses a compelling text, assembles a team of professors, invites participants to Lexington, and clears the way for a unique sharing of ideas and responses.

The Law and Literature program for 2018 will focus on Ernest J. Gaines's superb novel of 1993, A Lesson Before Dying. Gaines explores the wrongful condemnation of an African-American man for the murder of a white man in rural Louisiana in the mid-20th century. The novel quickly moves beyond questions of guilt and innocence and explores some of the most profound questions of justice, social mores and conventions, and, ultimately, existence itself. As the accused, known only as Jefferson, sits in his cell awaiting condemnation and execution, he is visited by a series of characters described by the narrator Grant Wiggins. They, along with Wiggins, explore the meaning of their lives within the complex web of race and justice in America. One of the most important writers of the late 20th century, Gaines penned 10 excellent novels, including the famed The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971) and A Gathering of Old Men (1983). A Lesson Before Dying won the National Book Award and remains one of the great novels of its time. Gaines's efforts to portray the near-timeless rural landscape of the deep South, his refusal to simplify the complexity of American history and culture, and his fearless exploration of the great questions faced by a human being who is facing his own death succeed brilliantly in a novel that cannot be forgotten. This haunting story will help us explore the tangled web of race and justice, along with the most pressing questions of the human condition.

Teaching in the program will be law professors Brian Murchison and David Bruck, English professor and university provost Marc Conner, Professor of Africana Studies Michael Hill, and Dave Caudill from Villanova Law School. As a bonus to practicing attorneys, the 2018 program will again seek approval for two hours of Continuing Legal Education ethics credit. The program is open to anyone interested in literature-you don't need to be an attorney to attend.