Crystal Wilkinson (2016)
Kentucky writer, poet and educator Crystal Wilkinson’s novel, “Birds of Opulence,” won in 2016. The book follows several generations of women in the Goode-Brown family. They are plagued by mental illness and illegitimacy, as well as the accompanying embarrassment. As younger generations watch their mothers and grandmothers pass on, they also fear they are going mad and must fight to survive. Wilkinson earned a journalism degree from Eastern Kentucky University in 1985 and a master’s in creative writing from Spalding University in Louisville. She is writer in residence at Berea College in Kentucky.
T. GERONIMO JOHNSON (2015)
Born and raised in New Orleans, T. Geronimo Johnson received his M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and his M.A. in language, literacy, and culture from UC Berkeley. He has taught writing and held fellowships—including a Stegner Fellowship and an Iowa Arts Fellowship—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. His second novel, Welcome to Braggsville, is the winner of the Gaines Book Award.
MITCHELL S. JACKSON (2014)
Mitchell S. Jackson was the 2014 winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence for his novel The Residue Years. He is a Portland, Ore., native who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He received an M.A. in writing from Portland State University and an M.F.A in Creative Writing from New York University. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, The Center for Fiction, and The Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. He published the e-book Oversoul: Stories and Essays in the summer of 2012 to critical acclaim. The Residue Years was released in the summer of 2013 and was praised by publications such as The New York Times, The Times of London, The Paris Review and The Sydney Morning Herald. He serves on the faculty of New York University and Columbia University.
ATTICA LOCKE (2013)
Attica Locke was the 2013 winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Locke won the Gaines Award for The Cutting Season, her second novel. Her debut novel, Black Water Rising, was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Edgar Award and an NAACP Image Award, and was long-listed for the UK’s Orange Prize. As a screenwriter, Locke has produced scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Jerry Bruckheimer Films and HBO. She was a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmakers Lab and has served on the board of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. A native of Houston, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.
STEPHANIE POWELL WATTS (2012)
Stephanie Powell Watts teaches at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn. She won the Gaines Award for her debut book, We Are Taking Only What We Need.
Ms. Watts also won the Writing Award. Her work has appeared in the Pushcart Prize and Best New Stories from the South anthologies, as well as Oxford American, New Letters and African American Review. She has received an Atlantic Monthly nonfiction prize. She once was a Jehovah's Witness minister, a shoestring factory worker and a food service worker in her home state of North Carolina.
DINAW MENGESTU (2011)
Dinaw Mengestu won for his novel, How to Read the Air. He was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. He moved to the United States with his mother and sister, joining his father, who had fled the communist revolution in Ethiopia two years before. Dinaw is a graduate of Georgetown University and of Columbia University's M.F.A. program in fiction.
His first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007), was named a New York Times Notable Book and awarded the Guardian First Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. After winning the Gaines Award, Mr. Mengestu was selected as a 2012 MacArthur Fellow.
VICTOR LAVALLE (2010)
Raised in the Flushing and Rosedale neighborhoods of Queens, New York, Victor LaValle won the Gaines Award for his novel, Big Machine. He graduated with a degree in English from Cornell University and a master’s from the Fine Arts Program of Creative Writing at Columbia University. He is an assistant professor at the Columbia University School for the Arts.
His Slapboxing with Jesus, a collection of 11 stories, won the PEN/Open Book Award. The Ecstatic, a novel published in 2002, was compared to works by Ken Kesey and John Kennedy Toole and was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. LaValle has written essays and book reviews for GQ, Essence and the Washington Post.
JEFFERY R. ALLEN (2009)
Jeffery R. Allen won with his collection of short stories, Holding Pattern. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Stellar Places and Harbors and Spirits, and two works of fiction. The widely-celebrated Rails Under My Back won The Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize for Fiction. Born in Chicago, Allen holds a Ph.D. in English (creative writing) from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is currently a faculty member in the writing program at the New School. He is the founder and executive director of the Pan African Literary Forum, an international, nonprofit literary organization that serves writers and which holds an annual writers’ conference in Ghana.
RAVI HOWARD (2008)
Ravi Howard received the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence in 2008 for the novel Like Trees, Walking. He has recorded commentary for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Massachusetts Review and Callaloo. He also appeared in the Ted Koppel documentary, The Last Lynching, on the Discovery Channel. Howard has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Ucross Foundation, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Howard was a finalist for both the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction in 2008. His television production work has appeared on HBO, ESPN, Fox Sports 1, and NFL Network.
OLYMPIA VERNON (2007)
A native of Louisiana, Olympia Vernon won the first Gaines Award for A Killing in This Town, which exposes the hierarchy of a society poisoned by hatred while exploring the power of an individual to stand up to demons of history and end a cycle of violence. Her first book, Eden, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the 2004 Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Vernon received a bachelor of arts in criminal justice from Southeastern Louisiana University in 1999 and earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Louisiana State University in 2002. She teaches writing at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.