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Ernest J. Gaines, a MacArthur fellow best known for the book The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, died at his home in Oscar, La., Tuesday. He was 86.

In an obituary on their website, the Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, described the author as leaving behind a legacy that is “nothing short of brilliant.”

Born Ernest James Gaines on Jan. 15, 1933 on a plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, La., Gaines grew up the son of sharecroppers. As he told the Center in a video interview, he only attended school five to five-and-a-half months out of the year, and spent the rest of the year working in the fields.