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Kentucky author Crystal Wilkinson’s first novel, “Birds of Opulence,” won the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Wilkinson serves as writer in residence at Berea College in Kentucky. The award ceremony takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19 at the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center for the Arts in Baton Rouge. Now in its 10th year, the Gaines Award honors rising African-American authors while paying tribute to Gaines, a literary legend who grew up in Louisiana’s Pointe Coupee Parish.

Photo credit for Crystal Wilkinson. jpg: Ron Davis


Kentucky Writer Crystal Wilkinson Named 2016 Winner

BATON ROUGE, La. – Ceremonies for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s 10th annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence take place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19 at the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center for the Arts. Kentucky writer Crystal Wilkinson will accept the honor for her novel, “Birds of Opulence.”


Doors open at 6 p.m. The ceremony is free and open to the public, though reservations are requested at Previous Gaines award winner Mitchell Jackson will serve as master of ceremonies.


The Gaines Award is a nationally acclaimed, $10,000 annual prize created by Baton Rouge Area Foundation donors to recognize outstanding work from rising African-American fiction writers while honoring Ernest Gaines’ extraordinary contribution to the literary world.


Wilkinson will read from her novel, which was selected by a national panel of judges. The story follows several generations of women in the Goode-Brown family in the fictional Southern black township of Opulence. The family is plagued by mental illness and illegitimacy, and the accompanying embarrassment. As younger generations watch their mothers and grandmothers die, they fear going mad and fight to survive.


Wilkinson earned a journalism degree from Eastern Kentucky University in 1985. She serves as writer in residence at Berea College in Kentucky. “Birds of Opulence” is her first novel, though many of her works have garnered critical acclaim. “Blackberries, Blackberries,” a collection of short stories, won the 2002 Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature. “Water Street,” another short-story collection, was a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and the U.K.’s Orange Prize for Fiction.


Also during the Jan. 19 ceremonies, winners of the elementary, middle and high school writers’ competition will be recognized.  


About Ernest J. Gaines

A native of Louisiana’s Pointe Coupee Parish, Gaines’ critically acclaimed novel “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” was adapted into a made-for-TV movie that won nine Emmy awards. His novel “A Lesson Before Dying,” published in 1993, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.


Gaines is a 2013 recipient of the National Medal of Arts, a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Grant, a recipient of the National Humanities Medal and a member of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.


About the Baton Rouge Area Foundation

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation is among more than 700 community foundations in the country. The Foundation works in two ways to improve the quality of life in Baton Rouge and across south Louisiana. The Foundation and its fund donors grant about $30 million each year to nonprofits. As well, the Foundation takes on projects to improve the capacity of nonprofits, solve fundamental problems and build gathering places for all people. Our current projects include improving autism services in the Baton Rouge metropolitan region and master planning for the Baton Rouge lakes. With Commercial Properties Realty Trust, the Foundation is building the Water Campus. Rising on 35 acres outside downtown Baton Rouge, the campus will provide labs and space for scientists and engineers working on the double peril of coastal erosion and rising seas across the Gulf Coast and the world. For more information, please visit