Aaliyah Bilal

Aaliyah Bilal wins Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence 2024

Aaliyah Bilal’s short story collection Temple Folk was declared the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

Ernest J. Gaines was an award-winning novelist and short story writer from the USA who wrote books like Catherine Carmier (1964), Of Love and Dust (1967), Bloodline (1968), The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), A Long Day in November (1971), In My Father’s House (1978), A Gathering of Old Men (1983), A Lesson Before Dying (1993), Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essays (2005), and The Tragedy of Brady Sims (2017). The author who passed away in 2019 was the recipient of numerous awards like the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, A Wallace Stegner Fellow in 1957, a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1967), a Guggenheim Fellow (1971), and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellow (1993).

In 2007, The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence was established by Baton Rouge Area Foundation donors to honour Gaines’ legacy and encourage rising African-American fiction writers. Previous winners have been Jacinda Townsend (2022), Nathan Harris (2021), Gabriel Bump (2020), Bryan Washington (2019), Jamel Brinkley (2018), Ladee Hubbard (2017), Crystal Wilkinson (2016), T. Geronimo Johnson (2015), Mitchell S. Jackson (2014), Attica Locke (2013), Stephanie Powell Watts (2012), Dinaw Mengestu (2011), Victor LaValle (2010), Jeffery R. Allen (2009), Ravi Howard (2008), and Olympia Vernon (2007).

The jury for 2024 was novelist, academic, and poet Anthony Grooms, New York Times bestselling author Edward P. Jones, award-winning novelist and memoirist Elizabeth Nunez, novelist Francine Prose, and editor Patricia Towers. This panel conferred the 2024 award worth US$15,000 to Aaliyah Bilal’s debut short story collection Temple Folk. Bilal was born and raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She has published stories and essays with The Michigan Quarterly Review and The Rumpus.  

“It is an honour to have my first effort, Temple Folk, chosen for the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence,” said Bilal. “I am especially proud to be associated through this award with the legacy of Mr. Gaines, as his oeuvre informs my ambition to tell timeless stories in plain spoken, elegant prose. Mr. Gaines teaches us how to do this sacred work with grace, grit, and love.”

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