Last week went from the elegant to the surreal, literally, as the Baton Rouge Area Foundation hosted the eighth annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and the Baton Rouge Gallery held its seventh annual Surreal Salon Soirée.

Literary award

Rain and a temperature drop on Jan. 22 tempered the sold-out crowd for the Gaines Award ceremony at the Manship Theatre but those who braved the elements were in for a treat. In introducing this year’s winner, Mitchell S. Jackson, Gaines said he was accustomed to reading novels with quotation marks and dialogue. “They are not here,” he added with a deep chuckle. “This is a book you will pick up again and again and again.”

“My editor did the same thing about a thousand times … picked it up, put it down, picked it up, put it down,” said Jackson. Turning the tables on the program, Jackson gave his acceptance speech after he read from his debut novel, “The Residue Years.” It made perfect sense as we soon realized the book is somewhat autobiographical.

“Yes, this book is about drugs, but it’s also about grace,” said Jackson, who went on to thank Gaines and others for the “lessons I learned without dying.”

The program’s finale was a performance by the Irvin Mayfield Trio. Their way-too-short performance included the song “Angola” Mayfield wrote to honor Gaines and one to Gaines’ wife Dianne … “the most beautiful women either one of us knows.” Check it out online at

Judges for the award, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize, were Thomas Beller, Anthony Grooms, Elizabeth Nunez, Francine Prose and Patricia Towers. Members of the Gaines Award committee are Chairwoman Mary Ann Sterberg, Lynn Mitchell, Matthew Teutsch and the Gaineses.

Surreal Salon Soirée

This fun fundraiser for the Baton Rouge Gallery just keeps getting better and better with more and more attendees dressing in some very surreal costumes … several of which appeared to be repurposed “Star Wars” ensembles. The night doubles as the opening for the gallery’s surreal exhibit, which this year had 500 entries. The job of picking out the 58 to be showcased fell on the shoulders of world-renowned pop-surreal artist Shag. His favorite of the entire collection and Best in Show honors went to Andrew Soria’s “America the Beautiful.”

That wasn’t the only prize announced that night. By a show of applause from the top four costumes, the winners were Dana Beuhler as Free Bird and David Navalim as Capital Flowers.

The night’s festivities also included a fun house from Elevator Projects, beats by Rav3n and sounds and puppets by Quintron and Miss Pussycat.

‘Precious Jewels’

Last year’s Cotillion Queen Da’Jiaron Rochelle Houston made her final promenade to kick off this year’s “Mu Sigma’s Precious Jewels: Refined & Cultivated” debutante cotillion Jan. 3 at Stage One. Serving as emcees for the evening were Melissa and Darryl Charles.

Houston was followed by the cotillion hostesses and 2014 - 2015 junior debutantes Chardae Arnold, Betty Freeman, Dejiona Jackson, Jada James, Miyantae Lafayette and Ty’Quieria Lodge. Next the parents of the debutantes and escorts performed the traditional Cotillion Grand March to the accompaniment of the Leroy Pero Band.

Houston then crowned her successor, 2014 Cotillion Queen Albrittany A’Daria Chambers, daughter of Nicole Richardson and Derrick Chambers. As Chambers promenaded to greet cotillion guests and her royal subjects, a quartet comprised of Marcella Ratcliff and sorority members Kayla Ford, Niakatia LeBlanc and Tamara Mosley performed “Encourage Yourself” in honor of the newly crowned queen.

Completing the royal court was First Princess Morgan Dee Georgetown, daughter of Amelia and David Georgetown, and Second Princess Jyla Lynette Ford, daughter of Jacqueline and Jeffery Ford. Georgetown was voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow debutantes and Houston.

Debutante escorts for the evening were Cameron Jeremiah LeBlanc, Diego Altonio Gregory and Jestyn Wayne Ford.

Scholarship and Cotillion Co-chairwoman Deirdre Harris Stepter presented nearly $2,000 in scholarships and awards to the three debutantes to assist with their college studies. With the assistance of sorority members Elouise Colbert, Sylvia Smith and Deborah Williams, she also presented trophies and certificates to the debs, including proclamations and keys to the city from the office of Mayor Kip Holden, as well as to the junior debs and escorts.

Chapter President Brenda H. Smith thanked members of the cotillion committee: Stepter and Colbert, Brittney Barnes, Deborah Daniels, Kayla Ford, Lolita Howard, Rochelle Howard, Jacqueline Hunt, Roshaunda Jackson, Niakatia LeBlanc, Sylvia Smith and Sharon Weatherspoon.

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