Jamel Brinkley’s collection of nine short stories has won the 2018 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Set in Brooklyn and the South Bronx where the writer spent his youth before graduating from Columbia University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the stories in A Lucky Man explore the charged, complex ties between boys and men who make mistakes that threaten their relationships with friends, lovers, and family members.
The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence honors Louisiana storyteller, Ernest J. Gaines, and serves to inspire and recognize rising African-American fiction writers of excellence at a national level. The annual award of a $10,000 cash prize is to support the writer and help enable them to focus on the art of writing.
A Lucky Man is “intent on recognizing what masculinity looks like, questioning our expectations of it, and criticizing its toxicity — and somehow managing to do all of that with love,” wrote Ilana Masad of National Public Radio.
Brinkley examines the way men excuse their own attempts at ownership of the world around them. His book “deals in family relationships, love, aging, loss, and disappointment — the universal themes that keep us coming back to literature — while also conveying versions of Black male experience,” Masad wrote.
In one story, an imaginative young boy from the Bronx goes swimming with his day camp group at a suburban backyard pool and faces the effects of power and privilege. In another, college boys on the prowl follow two girls home from a party and have to own up to the uncomfortable truth of their desires.
“Brinkley offers visions of manhood and masculinity that demonstrate candor without false intensity, desire without ownership. His male characters have fictional experiences that, in the hands of the right reader, can become equipment for living,” the Los Angeles Review of Books wrote.
The book award, initiated by donors of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, is now in its 12th year and has become nationally recognized in its role of enhancing visibility of emerging African-American fiction writers while also expanding the audience for this literature.
Brinkley will be honored January 24, 2019, in Baton Rouge.