Keynote Speaker

2016 Prize Keynote Speaker


T. Geronimo Johnson

Born and raised in New Orleans, T. Geronimo Johnson received his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and his M.A. in Language, Literacy, and Culture from UC Berkeley. His second novel, the bestselling Welcome to Braggsville, was longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award, the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, named one of the ten books all Georgians should read by the Georgia Center for the Book, and won the 2015 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. A former Stegner Fellow, Johnson has taught writing at UC Berkeley, Stanford University, the Writers’ Workshop, the Prague Summer Program, San Quentin, and elsewhere. His first novel, Hold it ’til it Hurts, was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award. Johnson lives in Berkeley, California.

Welcome to Braggsville

With the keen wit of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and the deft argot of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Welcome to Braggsville is a razor-sharp satire that interweaves the high and lowbrow, skewering issues of class, race, intellectual chauvinism and wayward liberalism while blending in references to hip hop, marijuana, Battlestar Galactica, and Twitter.

In the novel, Berkeley undergrad D’aron Davenport finds himself caught between the outdated values of his rural hometown of Braggsville, Georgia, and the over-intellectualized multiculturalism of “Berzerkeley,” until one disastrous party brings him three idiosyncratic best friends: Louis, a “kung fu comedian” from California; Candice, an earnest do-gooder from Iowa claiming Native roots; and Charlie, an introspective inner-city black teen from Chicago. They dub themselves the “4 Little Indians.” But when D’aron lets slip to his friends that Braggsville hosts an annual Civil War reenactment, recently rebranded “Patriot Days,” it is met with righteous indignation. Filled with the heady spirit of youthful liberalism, the group travels to Braggsville to stage a “performative intervention—a mock lynching—at the event for their class project. Their journey, through backwoods churches, backroom politics, Waffle Houses, and drunken family barbecues, is uproarious to start but will have surprising and ultimately devastating consequences for everyone they meet.

Alternately poignant and provocative, hilarious and devastating, Welcome to Braggsville is a literary coming-of-age novel for a new generation that crosses social boundaries and transcends reader categories.