Honor Recognizes Outstanding African-American Authors
BATON ROUGE, La. – The Baton Rouge Area Foundation has named author Dinaw Mengestu winner of the fifth annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence for Mengestu’s novel “How to Read the Air.”
Award ceremonies for Mengestu will take place at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.) on Jan. 26, 2012, at the Manship Theater in downtown Baton Rouge followed by a reception. Both are free and open to the public, though seating is limited, and RSVPs are required for this cocktail-attire event. Send reservation requests to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Jessica Boone at (225) 387-6126.
Created by Foundation donors, the Gaines award includes a $10,000 cash prize and honors outstanding work by rising African-American authors while recognizing Gaines’ extraordinary contribution to the literary world.
“How to Read the Air” chronicles the story of Jonas Woldemariam, a young Ethiopian-American who travels throughout the American Midwest, retracing the journey of his immigrant parents and regaining a sense of purpose in the process.
Mengestu’s debut novel, “The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears,” garnered widespread critical acclaim, winning the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Guardian First Book Prize and the Prix du Premier Meilleur Roman Etranger. Mengestu also was included in The New Yorker magazine’s 2010 list of top authors under 40. “How to Read the Air” and “The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears” are both published by Riverhead Books.
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mengestu grew up in Peoria, Ill., and suburban Chicago. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s from Columbia University and now resides in Paris.
Judges for the 2011 award were: Thomas Beller, award-winning author and professor of creative writing at Tulane University; Elizabeth Nunez, a critically acclaimed author and English professor at City University of New York’s Hunter College; Francine Prose, author of more than 20 books, including “Blue Angel,” a nominee for the 2000 National Book Award; Patricia Towers, former features editor for O: The Oprah Magazine and a founding editor of Vanity Fair magazine; and Rudolph Byrd, professor of African-American studies at Emory University who passed away in October.
Past winners of the Ernest J. Gaines award include Victor LaValle for “Big Machine,” Jeffrey Allen for “Holding Pattern: Stories,” Ravi Howard for “Like Trees Walking,” and Olympia Vernon for “A Killing in this Town.”
With more than $620 million in assets, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation is one of the Gulf Coast region’s largest community foundations. Winner of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ 2011 Award for Outstanding Foundation, BRAF connects donors to projects and nonprofit groups, along with investing in and managing community projects. In addition to the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill, our disaster-relief efforts include raising $45 million after hurricanes Katrina and Rita to aid victims and fund long-term recovery projects. For more information, visit BRAF.org.
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