Earnest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence

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Earnest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence



About the Award

The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence 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, is now in its 17th year and has become nationally recognized in its role of enhancing visibility of emerging African-American fiction writers while also expanding the audience for this literature. The annual award of a $15,000 cash prize is to support and enable the writer to focus on writing.

The 2023 panel of judges are renowned contributors to the literary world. They are Anthony Grooms, Edward P. Jones, Elizabeth Nunez, Francine Prose and Patricia Towers.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation sponsors the winner’s travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to receive the prize at a ceremony, where the author reads an excerpt from the selected work of fiction. A reception follows. The evening is free, open to the public and attracts a diverse audience.

The literary award winner also participates in educational activities at selected area schools and after-school programs in keeping with the Gaines Award’s interest in emphasizing the role of literature and arts in education. Through small creative writing workshops with the winning author, students are encouraged to pursue reading, delve into their own creativity, and to consider becoming an author.

Criteria and Submission


  • A work of fiction (novel or collection of short stories) that is published between October 1, 2022 and December 31, 2023. Galleys for a 2023 publication are also accepted, though galley proofs considered during the 2022 submission cycle are not eligible for consideration in 2023.

  • The nominee must be a rising author, not yet widely recognized for their work.

  • Author must be an African-American U.S. citizen.

  • Self-published books will not be accepted. Self-published defined as publishing one’s work
    independently and at one’s own expense.

  • Emailed entries will not be accepted.

  • The winning author must be willing to attend the award ceremony in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2024 and participate in media and educational outreach activities during that week.


April 1, 2023 – December 31, 2023  Eligible entries for 2023 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence will be accepted. See eligibility criteria and submission instructions above. All entries for the book award will receive written notification of receipt.

Spring 2024 – The winner will be selected by a national panel of judges. The judges reserve the right not to issue the award if they feel the selection pool lacks an acceptable candidate. Once the winner is selected, written notification will be sent to all eligible entries.

2024 – The 17th Annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence Ceremony will take place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Visit https://ernestjgainesaward.org/criteria for more information.

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