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Jacinda Townsend wins 16th Annual Ernest Gaines Book Award for Mother Country

Jacinda Townsend’s second novel, Mother Country, has won the 2022 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, presented annually by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to support an emerging African American fiction writer. She receives $15,000 to support the continuation of her craft.  

A national panel of literary judges selected the winner from 25 eligible entries. The judges commended two additional books of fiction for the award’s short list:  Stories from the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofaria and Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong.


The 16th annual Gaines Award will be presented to Townsend at 6:00 p.m., Thursday, January 19, 2023, at the Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts. Townsend will read from her work at the award ceremony. The award is given to honor the late Ernest Gaines, whose stories gave voice to African Americans in rural areas.

“[Mr. Gaines’s] A Lesson Before Dying was one of the books that most taught me how to weave searing social justice with the pleasure of storytelling, so it is a special honor to be part of this long tradition of excellence in African-American literature,” stated Townsend. “Writing is such a lonely enterprise for African-American storytellers, given that most of the industry’s gatekeepers are not us. It’s lovely to know that the community I started writing for, the community for which I will always primarily write, has read my work and found that it resonates. I am particularly looking forward to working with children in the Baton Rouge schools, as I am passionate about arts education.”

On a layover in Morocco, Townsend discovered the city of Marrakech and fell in love. Later that same year, on a trip to Northern Mali, she witnessed modern-day slavery: that incident inspired the research that eventually took her to Mauritania, where she met with escaped slaves and anti-slavery activists and began the work that would become Mother Country.

Townsend is also the author of Saint Monkey, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize. Saint Monkey was also the 2015 Honor Book of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Townsend is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Recent winners of the Ernest J. Gaines Award include The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris; Everywhere You Don’t’ Belong by Gabriel Bump, Lot by Bryan Washington; A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley, and; The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard.


About Ernest J. Gaines: Literary legend Ernest Gaines was a native of Oscar in Louisiana’s Pointe Coupee Parish which served as the setting for many of his novels. During his lifetime, Gaines received a National Medal of Arts Award (2013), a MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Grant, and the National Humanities Medal among numerous others. He was a member of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His critically acclaimed novel “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” was adapted into a made-for-TV movie that won nine Emmy awards. His 1993 novel “A Lesson Before Dying” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.

About the Baton Rouge Area Foundation: The Baton Rouge Area Foundation improves the quality of life in Greater Baton Rouge and across south Louisiana in three ways. The Foundation connects philanthropists with the causes they care about, provides support to nonprofits and takes on projects for civic good.