Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson has been selected as winner of the 2015 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.
Ernest Gaines, a native of Louisiana’s Pointe Coupee Parish and a literary legend, is a 2013 recipient of the National Medal of Arts, a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Grant, a recipient of the National Humanities Medal and a member of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Last year marked the 40th anniversary of publication of his critically acclaimed novel “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” which was adapted into a made-for-TV movie that won nine Emmy awards. His novel “A Lesson Before Dying” published in 1993 won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
Now in its ninth year, the Gaines Award is a nationally acclaimed $10,000 prize created by donors of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. The award recognizes outstanding work from rising African-American fiction writers while honoring Gaines’ extraordinary contribution to the literary world.
Johnson is a New Orleans native who lives in Berkeley, California, and serves as visiting professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He earned a master’s degree in fine arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a master’s in language, literacy and culture from the University of California, Berkeley. He previously held the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University and the Iowa Arts Fellowship at the University of Iowa. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Best New American Voices, Indiana Review, LA Review, and Illuminations, among others.
In addition, Johnson has taught writing at Arizona State University, the University of Iowa, UC Berkeley, Western Michigan University and Stanford. His first novel, Hold it ’til it Hurts, was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction.
Welcome to Braggsville offers a socially provocative and dark comedy about four UC Berkeley students who stage a protest during a Civil War reenactment in rural Georgia. In his review, Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin said Johnson is “a terrific storyteller, and he moves fluidly from past to present, place to place. In the end, no one is right and everyone is – or perhaps it’s the other way around.” The book has been called a social satire that follows the Berkeley students into disaster. “It’s an ambitious book about race that wants to say something big about America,” writes NPR.
Due to the exceptional quality of this year’s entries, Gaines Award judges short-listed two books – The Sellout by Paul Beatty and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.
The national panel of judges for the 2015 Gaines Award are: Thomas Beller, award-winning author and journalist; Anthony Grooms, a critically acclaimed author and creative writing professor at Kennesaw State University; renowned author Elizabeth Nunez, professor of English at Hunter College-City University of New York; Francine Prose, author of more than 20 books, including “Blue Angel,” a nominee for the 2000 National Book Award; and Patricia Towers, former features editor for O, The Oprah Magazine and a founding editor of Vanity Fair magazine.
Award ceremonies take place at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 21 at the Manship Theatre in downtown Baton Rouge. Johnson will read excerpts from his winning novel. The ceremony is free and open to the public, although reservations are requested at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation is one of the Gulf Coast region’s largest community foundations. Winner of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ 2011 Award for Outstanding Foundation, BRAF connects donors to projects and nonprofit groups, along with investing in and managing community projects. For more information, visit BRAF.org.