Attica Locke

Attica Locke is the winner of the 2013 Ernest J. Gaines Award for her novel "The Cutting Season." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Attica Locke has been named the winner of the 2013 Ernest J. Gaines Award. The award for literary excellence is given to an emerging African American author and comes with a prize of $10,000.

Locke, an L.A.-based writer, won the prize for her 2012 novel "The Cutting Season," which was published by Dennis Lehane's imprint. That and her debut, "Black Water Rising" (2009), are both literary thrillers that have hit bestseller lists as well as garnering critical acclaim. She has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize and was an L.A. Times Book Prize finalist.

"The Cutting Season" is set in Louisiana, where the Gaines Award is based. In 2012, Locke told The Times that the seed of the novel was planted when she went to a wedding at a plantation in Vacherie, La.

"We were bused from New Orleans, and you basically drive through rural poverty and all of a sudden these majestic columns shoot up along the Mississippi and it is a stunning sight," Locke explained. "And I immediately felt my stomach turn over, because I was confused by the mix of the beauty and what the place represented. When we disembarked from the bus, I burst into tears. I was there with my white husband — it was 2004 — and the couple getting married there was an interracial couple. So I didn't understand if our presence there was a sign of tremendous healing, or were we so divorced from history that we had turned this setting, where people had toiled and died and were not free, into just a party. Somewhere in that question was the impetus to write this book."

The award is named for Ernest J. Gaines, the author of "A Lesson Before Dying," "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" and more than a dozen other books.

“Attica is a superb storyteller, and her book addresses the struggles of race and class for a modern audience,” Gaines said in a release about the award. “This selection highlights her contribution to contemporary American literature."

Previous winners of the Gaines Award, now in its seventh year, include Whiting Award winners Stephanie Powell Watts and Victor LaValle and MacArthur "Genius" Fellow Dinaw Mengestu. Locke will be presented with her award Jan. 23, 2014, in Baton Rouge.

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