The award is given every two years to an outstanding novel or short story collection by a Georgia author. From this year’s list, it appears that the state’s literary talent is clustered around Atlanta. Books spanning a range of genres, from Jackson’s popular women’s fiction to Southern Gothic to Skibell’s literary novel set in Freud’s Vienna, are competing for the prize, which carries a $2,000 award.
Acclaimed short story writer and novelist Ann Beattie will speak at the award ceremony on April 26 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The prize, jointly sponsored by the Georgia Center for the Book, the Southern Academy for Literary Arts & Scholarly Research at Georgia Perimeter College and The Chattahoochee Review, was established in 1981 in honor of Jim Townsend, founding editor of Atlanta Magazine and a mentor to many leading Georgia writers, including Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons.
The previous award, in 2010, went to Kathryn Stockett for her blockbuster novel “The Help.” Other past Townsend winners include Alice Walker, Mary Hood and Ha Jin.
The 2012 Townsend Prize finalists are:
Daniel Black for “Perfect Peace” (St. Martin’s Press). Black, a professor at Clark Atlanta University, has written a folksy tale about a rural Arkansas family’s attempts to come to terms with a mother’s decision to turn her seventh son into a daughter.
Lynn Cullen for “Reign of Madness” (Putnam). A fictional autobiography of 16th-century monarch Queen Juana of Spain, accused of insanity and locked up in a convent for 50 years by her treacherous husband and father.
Ann Hite for “Ghost on Black Mountain” (Gallery Books). A Southern Gothic-paranormal fable told by five women who come into the orbit of a cruel and charismatic man in Depression-era North Carolina.
Joshilyn Jackson for “Backseat Saints” (Grand Central Publishing). An abused young wife, living in constant fear of her husband, weaves her way across the country to find somewhere safe from her tormentor.
Collin Kelley for “Remain in Light” (Vanilla Heart Publishing). A poet and essayist, named Georgia Author of the Year in 2007, Kelley has written a literary suspense novel that prowls through the squalid, drug-riddled underside of Paris and the dark recesses of troubled psyches.
Thomas Mullen for “The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers” (Random House). A pair of legendary bank robber brothers cheat death many times in this surrealistic tale rooted in the very real hardships of the Depression.
Andrew Plattner for “A Marriage of Convenience” (BkMk Press). This story collection by a professor of writing at Kennesaw State University centers on characters who try to improve their odds on the racetrack and in life.
Josh Russell for “My Bright Midnight” (Louisiana State University Press). Russell, who teaches creative writing at Georgia State University, chronicles the life of a German immigrant to New Orleans during World War II, whose assimilation is riddled with hurtful reminders of his outsider status.
Joseph Skibell for “A Curable Romantic” (Algonquin Books). Few writers can get away with a 600-page book in today’s streamlined publishing business, so Skibell’s novel about a comic Jewish hero who romances Freud’s hysterical patient Emma Eckstein, among other misadventures, attests to his literary status.
Amanda Kyle Williams for “The Stranger You Seek” (Bantam Books). An alcoholic FBI criminal profiler turned private detective joins in the hunt for a serial killer loose in Atlanta, only to become one of the hunted.