2016 fiction winner
T. Geronimo Johnson | Welcome to Braggsville
About the author
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 a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award nominee, 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. He lives in Berkeley, CA.
About the book
From the PEN/Faulkner finalist and critically acclaimed author of Hold It ’Til It Hurts comes a dark and socially provocative Southern-fried comedy about four UC Berkeley students who stage a dramatic protest during a Civil War reenactment—a fierce, funny, tragic work from a bold new writer.
Welcome to Braggsville. The City that Love Built in the Heart of Georgia. Population 712
Born and raised in the heart of old Dixie, D’aron Davenport finds himself in unfamiliar territory his freshman year at UC Berkeley. Two thousand miles and a world away from his childhood, he is a small-town fish floundering in the depths of a large, hyper-liberal pond. Caught between the prosaic values of his rural hometown and the intellectualized multicultural cosmopolitanism of Berzerkeley, the nineteen-year-old white kid is uncertain about his place until one disastrous party brings him three idiosyncratic best friends: Louis, a “kung-fu comedian" from California; Candice, an earnest do-gooder claiming Native roots from Iowa; and Charlie, an introspective inner-city black teen from Chicago. They dub themselves the “4 Little Indians.”
But everything changes in the group’s alternative history class, when D’aron lets slip that his hometown hosts an annual Civil War reenactment, recently rebranded “Patriot Days.” His announcement is met with righteous indignation, and inspires Candice to suggest a “performative intervention” to protest the reenactment. Armed with youthful self-importance, makeshift slave costumes, righteous zeal, and their own misguided ideas about the South, the 4 Little Indians descend on Braggsville. Their journey through backwoods churches, backroom politics, Waffle Houses, and drunken family barbecues is uproarious to start, but will have devastating consequences.
With the keen wit of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and the deft argot of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, T. Geronimo Johnson has written an astonishing, razor-sharp satire. Using a panoply of styles and tones, from tragicomic to Southern Gothic, he skewers issues of class, race, intellectual and political chauvinism, Obamaism, social media, and much more.
A literary coming-of-age novel for a new generation, written with tremendous social insight and a unique, generous heart, Welcome to Braggsville reminds us of the promise and perils of youthful exuberance, while painting an indelible portrait of contemporary America.
Critics / Reviews
“[Welcome to Braggsville] flirts with stereotypes, lingers in the familiar, then pivots to afford the characters their humanity . . . Reading this novel is not unlike listening to an erudite satirist play the dozens in a marathon performance . . . But the satire leaping off these pages is not hate, nor the dead-end cynical variety that withers with a sneer. Here, the observations have too much wit and knowing, the characters too much soul, for Johnson’s story to feel trapped in callow hipster irony . . . Organic, plucky, smart, Welcome to Braggsville is the funniest sendup of identity politics, the academy and white racial anxiety to hit the scene in years.” — New York Times Book Review
“The most dazzling, most unsettling, most oh-my-God-listen-up novel you’ll read this year is called Welcome to Braggsville. . . . T. Geronimo Johnson plays cultural criticism like its acid jazz. His shockingly funny story pricks every nerve of the American body politic.” — Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Audacious, unpredictable, exuberant and even tragic, in the most classic meaning of the word . . . A heady mix of satire and hyperbole. At times, Welcome to Braggsville reads like a literary hybrid of David Foster Wallace and Colson Whitehead.” — David Ulin, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A partial list of great American writers whose names came to mind as I was reading T. Geronimo Johnson's new novel, Welcome to Braggsville: Tom Wolfe, Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, H.L. Mencken, Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Norman Mailer and Ralph Ellison, Ralph Ellison, Ralph Ellison. Johnson's timely novel is a tipsy social satire about race and the oh-so-fragile ties that bind disparate parts of this country into an imperfect and restless union. It's an ambitious book that not only wants to say something big about America, but aims to do so in a big American voice . . . Welcome to Braggsville isn't quite Invisible Man or White Noise, but it gets within hailing distance of their heights.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air
“A rollicking satire . . . Radical, hilarious, tragic, and all too relevant.” — O Magazine
“Johnson’s writing is often brilliantly comic, and Braggsville is a welcome new kind of southern novel.” — Time magazine, Top 10 Books of 2015
“The unsettling racial satire America needs right now . . . Johnson turns this tale of a misbegotten college student protest of a Civil War reenactment into a subtle exploration of identity, personal narrative, collective narrative, racism, academic elitism and far more. . . . [B]y turns silly, somber and sharply satirical . . . Welcome to Braggsville doesn’t offer easy polemic or easier sentimentality, but a deep dive into the American race problem as muddled, terrifying, and absurd as the reality.” — Huffington Post
“Full of virtuosic sentences and coruscating satire . . . a brilliant and necessary read.” — Buzzfeed Books
“A stunning achievement with no clear literary precedent. Welcome to Braggsville . . . is one of the most searing, shocking looks at racial issues and campus activism in a long time.” — Men’s Journal, Best Books of 2015
“As daring a literary high-wire act as has come along in some time. . . . This is literary showmanship at its most provocative and daring. And one of the most daring things about the novel is that it’s frequently and unabashedly funny . . . [Johnson] possesses a satirical gaze that is as merciless as it is meticulous: He misses nothing. . . . [A] volatile mix of stinging satire, linguistic pyrotechnics and heartbreaking narrative.” — San Francisco Chronicle
“Both funny and frightful . . . Johnson deftly pokes dark fun at a wide swath of culture, high and low. . . . But as 21st-century American culture crisscrosses with the nation’s history, Johnson’s story evokes more than satirical humor. A sense of conscience and moral purpose takes shape at the heart of the book.” — Associated Press
“You must read T. Geronimo Johnson. He is awesome.” — Sherman Alexie
“Southern Gothic meets West Coast political correctness with hilarious results in Johnson’s new satirical novel. . . . An odyssey through Waffle Houses, evangelical churches and backyard barbecue’s ensues, with attitudes about everything from race to social media getting skewered.” — New York Post
“Ghastly and funny and gloriously provocative . . . Johnson’s prose is by turns scathing dark humor, soaring lyricism, and a quietly devastating analysis of every species of injustice. The result is a kind of mind-melting poetry—a linguistic electroconvulsive therapy for the reader. This book will wake you up!” — Karen Russell, New York Times bestselling author of Swamplandia!
“Johnson dresses his social criticism in lively, colloquial writing . . . On one side he depicts a reactionary South unwilling to fully reckon with its history and terrified of the slightest outside scrutiny. But his sharpest elbows are reserved for left-wing academia, which, despite its air of moral superiority, leaves its charges haplessly unable to comprehend the world outside the cloister of the classroom.” — Wall Street Journal
“Amusing . . . unpredictable. An ambitious book, and [Johnson] handles with aplomb the complexities of growing-up, with its cumbrous transitions. . . . Despite the story’s dark turn, there’s humor in the wonder of oracular pronouncements.” — Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“The academic world has long been an easy punching bag for much of the American public, but rarely has there been a moment where it has seemed so ripe for satire. Enter T. Geronimo Johnson and his biting, clever novel, winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, which cuts to the core of hypocrisy in those ivory towers. Following four Berkeley students bent on a bit of guerrilla theater at a Civil War re-enactment in Georgia, Johnson never runs out of targets for his satirical pen, from Old South apologists to solipsistic students in the grip of self-righteous political correctness.” — The Daily Beast, Best Fiction of 2015
“Satire of the sharpest sort and effectively upends each and every one of the stereotypes with which we’re all familiar. Nobody is safe from Johnson’s brilliant words, and while the end result can be an at times unsettling look at our society and its many, many flaws, it is also a wholly necessary one.” — Brooklyn Magazine, Best Books of 2015
“Stunning and poignant . . . Johnson’s novel may not have the answer to the problems he’s addressing, [but] it’s clear that he’s asking the right questions.” — LA Review of Books
“This shockingly funny story, longlisted for the National Book Award, pricks every nerve (on both sides) of the American body politic.” — Kansas City Star, Best Fiction of 2015
“Johnson is a fearless writer, and Welcome to Braggsville is one of the most provocative, daring novels we’ve seen in a while. . . . An unsettling story that forces us to examine our own prejudices and what, if anything, we’re doing to make America more tolerant.” — Chicago Tribune
“Welcome to Braggsville is a comic, rollicking, and biting story about the cultural clash between the rural South and a bastion of contemporary politically sensitive liberalism.” — Christian Science Monitor
“In Welcome to Braggsville, T. Geronimo Johnson has written a brilliant, blistering aria of an America divided by race, privilege, and politics. It’s like a year’s worth of The Daily Show compressed into a narrative that recent headlines have made even more heartbreakingly resonant.” — Anthony Marra, New York Times bestselling author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
“‘Contradiction is the lever to transcendence,’ Simone Weil once said, and transcendence is what Geronimo Johnson achieves in this remarkable novel. . . . Welcome to Braggsville is ambitious, wise, and brave.” — Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena