Those who wrote and worked alongside Ernest Gaines at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette gathered Monday afternoon to share inspiring and humorous words about the acclaimed African-American author and UL professor who died last week at the age of 86.

Marcia Gaudet, former director of the Ernest J. Gaines Center that's housed in the UL library, shared a piece of advice Gaines once gave one of his most successful students, the New York Times' best-selling author, Wiley Cash.

"He said to him, 'Write what's true, not what's pretty,'" Gaudet said. "And I think, especially at this time when we're writing about Ernest Gaines as a friend and author and man, we can write what's completely true, and it will be incredibly beautiful."

Gaines, who died in his home Nov. 5 on the same property in Pointe Coupee Parish where his ancestors once worked on a plantation, penned eight novels and several short stories. He earned a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for his 1993 novel "A Lesson Before Dying," and his 1971 novel "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" was made into a TV film starring Cicely Tyson.

Gaines was a writer-in-residence at UL from 1981 until his retirement.

Dr. Milton Jolivette shared a story Monday afternoon about what it was like caring for Gaines after a neck surgery he had while working in Lafayette.

"I was not his best friend," Jolivette said. "I would make rounds at 5:30 in the morning. Mr. Gaines was not ready to wake up at 5:30 in the morning. Yet I came every morning, and he knew I would be there at 5:30."

Later, Gaines spoke at the 50th wedding anniversary of Jolivette's parents, and he referenced those early morning wake-up calls.

"He pointed out that I made rounds at 5:30 in the morning," Jolivette said as people laughed. "He pointed out that we were not friends."

Monday's ceremony included a recording of Gaines reading from his novel, "A Gathering of Old Men."

"The reason why I picked 'A Gathering of Old Men' is because Dr. Gaines, in his very special way, was a preservationist," said Cheylon Woods, current director of the Gaines Center. "He used his art to preserve a community that is no longer seen."

Darrell Bourque, Louisiana's former poet laureate, read Joy Harjo's poem, "The Story Wheel," which details the shared experience of grieving.

"All for that welcome home dance," the poem concludes, "The most favorite of all — when everyone finds their way back together to dance, eat and celebrate. And tell story after story of how they fought and played in the story wheel and how no one was ever really lost at all."

The poem wasn't just a representation of the life lost, Bourque said. It was a representation of every person Gaines knew in real life who would one day become the iconic characters in his fictional works.

"None of them was ever really lost at all," Bourque told the crowd gathered at the memorial service.

Email Megan Wyatt at mwyatt@theadvocate.com.