Now in its 11th year, the Gaines Award is a nationally acclaimed $10,000 prize given annually by Baton Rouge Area Foundation donors to recognize outstanding work from rising African-American fiction writers, while honoring Louisiana native Ernest Gaines’ extraordinary contribution to the literary world.
The award will be presented to Hubbard at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 18 at the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center for the Arts in downtown Baton Rouge. Doors open at 6 p.m. The ceremony is free and open to the public, although reservations are requested at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Talented Ribkins is Hubbard’s first novel. It was inspired by the essay “The Talented Tenth,” written in 1903 by civil rights sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, calling for exceptional men to step up to help save their race. The novel follows Johnny Ribkins and his family who are on a race to dig up stolen money stashed all over Florida before Johnny’s former mobster boss finds him. Luckily, Johnny’s family hold unusual superpowers that help him in his search although the superpowers get in the way from time to time. The novel incorporates race, class and politics, and the unique gifts that bind the Ribkins family together.
Hubbard earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, a master’s of fine arts in dramatic writing from New York University and a master’s of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles. While attending Princeton, she was mentored by Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison. Hubbard is a professor of African studies at Tulane University.
The national panel of judges for the 2017 Gaines Award are: Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize winner for his 2003 novel, The Known World; 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.
Due to the exceptional quality of entries, judges for the Gaines Award short-listed three books for commendation this year – New People, by Danzy Senna, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah, and What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons.
Previous winners of the Ernest J. Gaines award include Crystal Wilkinson for Birds of Opulence, T. Geronimo Johnson for Welcome to Braggsville, Attica Locke for The Cutting Season, Stephanie Powell Watts for We Are Taking Only What We Need, and Dinaw Mengestu for How to Read the Air.
Ernest Gaines, a native of Pointe Coupee Parish and a literary legend, has received a National Medal of Arts (2013), a MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Grant, and the National Humanities Medal. He is a member of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His critically acclaimed novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was adapted into a made-for-TV movie that won nine Emmy awards. His 1993 novel A Lesson Before Dying won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.