The annual $15,000 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence is open to rising African-American fiction writers across the United States.

The book award, honors Louisiana’s revered storyteller, Ernest J. Gaines, and is now in its 15th year. It has become nationally recognized in its role of enhancing the visibility of emerging African-American fiction writers while also expanding the audience for this literature.

The 2021 panel of judges are themselves 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 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.

Eligibility Criteria

  • The nominee must be a rising author, not yet widely recognized for their work.
  • Author must be an African-American U.S. citizen.
  • The nominee must submit a work of fiction (novel or collection of short stories) that will be published in 2021. Galleys for a 2021 publication are also accepted.
  • Self-published books will not be accepted. Self-published is 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 on January 27, 2022, and participate in educational outreach activities during that week.

How to Enter

To enter a published book or galley for review, send the completed registration form and 8 copies of the work to:

Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
c/o Baton Rouge Area Foundation
100 North St., Suite 900
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70802

Non-winning entries will be donated to an area nonprofit. Ineligible entries will not be returned.

Entries must be RECEIVED at the Foundation offices by August 15, 2021.


  • May 17, 2021 – August 15, 2021  Eligible entries for 2021 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence will be accepted. See criteria for submission above for eligibility. All entries for the book award will receive written notification of receipt.
  • November 2021  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.
  • January 27, 2022  The 15th Annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence Ceremony will take place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

For additional information, please email [email protected]


Photo by Andres Ayrton from Pexels

Team VoW
Author: Team VoW

Valley of Writers provides resources, tools, ideas and training for new writers. We work with a writers and contributors based around the world. Our primary focus is to equip new writers with skills to help them reach new audiences and achieve their goals.

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