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Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary E xcellence The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence honors Louisiana’s revered storyteller, Ernest J. Gaines, and serves to inspire and recognize rising African Americans who are writing fiction. Donors of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation started the award in 2007. Since then, the Gaines Award has become nationally recognized as the most desired by African American writers. The winners, who receive $10,000, have gone on to considerable success. One earned a MacArthur Genius Award, another is a writer and producer for the critically acclaimed Fox TV Drama Empire.

At left, 2014 winner Mitchell S. Jackson with Mr. Gaines at the award celebration, January 20, 2015.

Ernest J. Gaines Ernest J. Gaines was born on January 15, 1933 at a plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish near New Roads, Louisiana, which is the Bayonne of all his fictional works. He is professor emeritus at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His novel, A Lesson Before Dying, won the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and is regularly included in high school English classes. In addition, another of his novels, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, has become an undisputed classic of twentieth-century American literature and gave rise to the immensely popular, award-winning TV-movie adaptation starring Cicely Tyson. The Award The Foundation accepts nominations from African American writers of fiction in the spring and summer of each year. A panel of independent judges reads each of the nominated books and comes together to choose a winner. The Foundation announces the winner in late fall, and the winner spends about a week in January to teach in Baton Rouge and appear at the award celebration at the Manship Theatre. Our past winners include the following...


T. Geronimo Johnson Welcome to Braggsville Mr. Johnson’s first novel, Hold It ‘Til It Hurts, was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. He has held fellowships and taught at Arizona State University, the University of Iowa and UC Berkeley.


Mitchell S. Jackson The Residue Years Mr. Jackson’s first novel, The Residue Years, was a finalist for the Center For Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First novel prize, the PEN / Hemingway award for first fiction, The Hurston / Wright Legacy Award for best fiction by a writer of African descent.


Attica Locke The Cutting Season Ms. Locke has won an Edgar Award and an NAACP Image Award. She lives in Los Angeles and is a writer and producer for Empire, the critically acclaimed Fox TV drama about the music industry.


Stephanie Powell Watts We Are Taking Only What We Need Ms. Watts’ work has appeared in the Puschart Prize and Best New Stories from the South. She recently won the Whiting Award, a $50,000 prize for new authors.


Dinaw Mengestu How to Read the Air After winning the Gaines Award, Mr. Mengestu was chosen for a MacArthur Genius Award. His third novel, All Our Names, was published in 2014.


Victor Lavalle Big Machine Lavalle has written three novels and a collection of short stories. The Washington Post chose his latest book, The Devil in Silver, among the 50 best novels of 2012.


Ravi Howard Like Trees, Walking A versatile writer, Mr. Howard has written for newspapers, television and radio. His second novel, Driving the King, was published in 2015.


Olympia Vernon A Killing in this Town Ms. Vernon has written three novels, including Eden, for which she won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award.

The Judges The judges are an accomplished group. One is a founding editor of Vanity Fair. All of them have written novels and won awards for their work. The 2015 panel of judges are Thomas Beller, creative writing professor at Tulane University; Anthony Grooms, a poet and novelist who teaches at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta; Elizabeth Nunez, a novelist and professor at Hunter College, the City University of New York; Francine Prose, who has written more than 20 books and is a distinguished visiting writer at Bard College; and Patricia Towers, former features director of O, the Oprah Magazine and a founding editor of Vanity Fair. Ceremonies and Education The literary award winner is celebrated each January at the Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts. Mr. Gaines has attended each of the ceremonies. Winners read from their books. The event and reception welcome everyone.

For more information or to submit an entry, please visit

Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence  

The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence honors Louisiana’s revered storyteller, Ernest J. Gaines, and serves to inspire and recog...

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