Novelist Ernest J. Gaines, whose poor childhood on a small Louisiana plantation town germinated the stories of black struggles that grew into universal stories of grace and beauty, has died. He was 86.

The Louisiana governor's office on Tuesday released word of his death.

"A Lesson Before Dying," published in 1993, was an acclaimed classic. Gaines that year was awarded a "genius grant" by the MacArthur Foundation, receiving $335,000 to spend over the next five years.

Both "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" (1971) and "A Gathering of Old Men" (1984) became honored television movies.