New Orleans native author to dine with Ernest J. Gaines and his wife _lowres

Photo by ELIZABETH R. COWAN -- T. Geronimo Johnson

T. Geronimo Johnson’s novel “Welcome to Braggsville” is the winner of the 2015 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.

Now in its ninth year, the Gaines Award is a $10,000 annual prize created 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 at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge. Doors open at 6 p.m. The ceremony is free; reservations are requested at

Johnson, a New Orleans native, now 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.

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.

Los Angeles Times book reviewer David L. Ulin says 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.”

Because of the exceptional quality of the entries, judges for the Gaines Award short-listed two books — “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty and “The Turner House” by Angela Flournoy — for commendation this year.

Previous winners of the Ernest J. Gaines award include 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.”

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.