Ernest J. Gaines
The following seven books are all winners of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. This award honors Louisiana’s revered storyteller, Ernest J. Gaines, and serves to inspire and recognize rising African-American fiction writers of excellence at a national level. The book award, initiated by donors of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation has become nationally recognized in its role of enhancing visibility of emerging black fiction writers while also expanding the audience for this literature. The annual award of a $10,000 cash prize is to support the writer and help enable her/him to focus on her/his art of writing.
Eligible entries are read by a panel of judges, themselves renowned contributors to the literary world. They are Thomas Beller, Anthony Grooms, Elizabeth Nunez, Francine Prose and Patricia Towers.
A Killing in This Town
by Olympia Vernon
Olympia Vernon won the first Gaines Award for A Killing in This Town, her third novel. A Killing in This Town, is a taut, poetic masterpiece that exhumes a horrific epoch from the annals of the American South.
There is a menace in the woods of Bullock County, Mississippi, and not only for the black man destined to be lynched when a white boy comes of age. The white men who work at the Plant are in danger, too, but they refuse to heed Earl Thomas’s urgent message that the factory is slowly killing them; turning a deaf ear to the black pastor. Thomas knows he should try to deliver the message again, but he hears the blood of his murdered friend calling to him from the ground, and fears that he will be the next black man to be dragged to his death. Adam Pickens, a white boy now on the eve of his thirteenth birthday, isn’t sure he wants to wear the garb being readied for him by the Klan seamstress, or participate in the town’s ugly ritual. It is only when Gill Mender—a man haunted by past sins—returns that redemption seems possible. A transfixing and pivotal work of fiction, A Killing in This Town exposes the fragile hierarchy of a society poisoned by hatred, and shows the power of an individual to stand up to the demons of history and bring the cycle of violence to an end.
Like Trees, Walking
by Ravi Howard
Like Trees, Walking examines an old tale in the New South. Based on the true story of the 1981 lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama, the novel follows the lives of Paul and Roy Deacon, teenagers and childhood friends of Michael Donald, as they cope with the aftermath of his hanging. It is Paul Deacon who discovers the body, and the experience leaves him forever changed.
The Deacons have operated a funeral home in the city for over 100 years. When the family is asked to conduct the services for Michael, Roy Deacon must examine whether a life in the family tradition is where he belongs.
The story explores the vivid history and landscape of the Gulf Coast community and takes readers down the wooden–bricked streets of turn of the century Mobile with its Spanish architecture and its tree–lined avenues that host the annual Mardi Gras parades.
Readers experience the complexities of the American South–the beauty of the landscape mixed with the ugliness of its racial history–as the characters cope with a tragic chapter in the unfolding story of the New South.
Holding Pattern: Stories
by Jeffrey Allen
The world of Jeffery Renard Allen’s stunning short-story collection is a place like no other. A recognizable city, certainly, but one in which a man might sprout wings or copper pennies might fall from the skies onto your head. Yet these are no fairy tales. The hostility, the hurt, is all too human.
The protagonists circle each other with steely determination: a grandson taunts his grandmother, determined to expose her secret past; for years, a sister tries to keep a menacing neighbor away from her brother; and in the local police station, an officer and prisoner try to break each other’s resolve.
In all the stories, Allen calibrates the mounting tension with exquisite timing, in mesmerizing prose that has won him comparisons with Joyce and Faulkner. Holding Pattern is a captivating collection by a prodigiously talented writer.
by Victor LaValle
Ricky Rice was as good as invisible: a middling hustler, recovering dope fiend, and traumatized suicide cult survivor running out the string of his life as a porter at a bus depot in Utica, New York. Until one day a letter appears, summoning him to the frozen woods of Vermont. There, Ricky is inducted into a band of paranormal investigators comprised of former addicts and petty criminals, all of whom had at some point in their wasted lives heard The Voice: a mysterious murmur on the wind, a disembodied shout, or a whisper in an empty room that may or may not be from God.
Evoking the disorienting wonder of writers like Haruki Murakami and Kevin Brockmeier, but driven by Victor LaValle’s perfectly pitched comic sensibility Big Machine is a mind-rattling literary adventure about sex, race, and the eternal struggle between faith and doubt.
How to Read the Air
by Dinaw Mengestu
A “beautifully written”* (New York Times Book Review) novel of redemption by a prize-winning international literary star.
From the acclaimed author of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears comes a heartbreaking literary masterwork about love, family, and the power of imagination.
Following the death of his father Yosef, Jonas Woldemariam feels compelled to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, he sets out to retrace his mother and father’s honeymoon as young Ethiopian immigrants and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn country of his parents’ youth to a brighter vision of his life in America today. In so doing, he crafts a story- real or invented-that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.
We Are Taking Only What We Need
by Stephanie Powell Watts
African American women protagonists lose and find love, confront sanity and craziness, and strive to make sense of their lives in North Carolina. A Jehovah’s Witness girl goes door-to-door with an expert field-service partner from up north. At a call center, operator Sheila fields a caller’s uncomfortable questions under a ruthless supervisor’s eye. Forty-something Aunt Ginny surprises the family by finding a husband, but soon she gives them more to talk about.
Pulitzer-Prize winner Edward P. Jones writes, “Watts offers an impressive debut that promises only wonderful work to come.”
The Cutting Season
by Attica Locke
“The Cutting Season is a rare murder mystery with heft, a historical novel that thrills, a page-turner that makes you think. Attica Locke is a dazzling writer with a conscience.” —Dolen Perkins-Valdez, New York Times bestselling author of Wench
Attica Locke’s breathtaking debut novel, Black Water Rising, won resounding acclaim from major publications coast-to-coast and from respected crime fiction masters like James Ellroy and George Pelecanos, earning this exciting new author comparisons to Dennis Lehane, Scott Turow, and Walter Mosley.
Locke returns with The Cutting Season, a second novel easily as gripping and powerful as her first—a heart-pounding thriller that interweaves two murder mysteries, one on Belle Vie, a historic landmark in the middle of Lousiana’s Sugar Cane country, and one involving a slave gone missing more than one hundred years earlier. Black Water Rising was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Edgar® Award, and an NAACP Image Award, and was short-listed for the Orange Prize in the U.K.
The 2014 winner will be announced at Eighth Annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence which will be presented, Thursday, January 22, 2015