2020 Townsend Prize Winner and Finalists

Written By: Lissa Poirot

ESTABLISHED IN 1982 by Atlanta magazine’s founding editor, Jim Townsend, the Townsend Prize recognizes the best of Georgia authors in a biennial award. Chosen by the Georgia Center for the Book and Perimeter College at Georgia State University’s The Chattahoochee Review literary journal, the 2020 award winner and finalists have been selected.

Looking for the next book for your reading group or something to enjoy on your own? Consider these Georgia-based authors recognized for crafting award-winning content.

WINNER: “Brass” by Xhenet Aliu

Penguin Random House

Author Aliu is a native of Waterbury, Conn., and a daughter of Albanian and Lithuanian American parents. After receiving her Master of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Aliu found herself in Georgia where her stories and essays have won critical acclaim.

“Brass” is the story not unlike her own. Her characters Bashkim and Elsie have ties to Albania and Lithuania as parents to the head-strong Luljeta who is trying to leave her Connecticut life for the big city. In rejection, she begins to learn about her parents’ past and in the process discovers herself.

FINALIST: “The Care & Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls” by Anissa Gray

Berkley Books

Gray, an Emmy Award-winning CNN journalist who resides in Atlanta, writes of three sisters in the Butler family who go through a massive upheaval in their small town. When one sister is arrested with her husband, a Aliu; Anissa Gray; Roberta George 2ND ROW: Andy Plattner; Jamie Quatro; Jessica Handler 3RD ROW: Soniah Kamal; Anthony Grooms 4TH ROW: Sabrina Orah Mark; Amy Bonnaffons mystery makes the sisters question their beliefs in their family as the others have to take care of the children and come to grips with what is happening.

FINALIST: “The Day’s Heat” by Roberta George

Impress Books

Based in Valdosta, where she teaches English and creative writing, “The Day’s Heat” is George’s debut novel that also earned her the Georgia Author of the Year Award. The founding editor of independent publishing company Snake Nation Press and mother to nine, George dives straight into the deep end with her new book.

Set in the 60s, “The Day’s Heat” follows a Lebanese girl living in South Georgia. While Lee James is darkskinned, her sister, Ray, is light-skinned. She encounters prejudice and struggles to grow and we get to witness how two girls from the same family are treated entirely differently based on the color of their skin.

FINALIST: “Dixie Luck” by Andy Plattner

Mercer University Press

Atlanta-based author Plattner sets his short stories of “Dixie Luck” in Hot Springs, Arkansas. In these tales we meet a handful of characters who fight the odds and remain optimistic in times of strife. The uplifting stories by Kennesaw State University and

Emory University teacher Plattner will leave you smiling.

FINALIST: “Fire Sermon” by Jamie Quatro

Grove Press

When long-married Maggie meets the poet James, a spiritual and intellectual awakening occurs and stirs up emotions and yearnings in a mother who loves her husband and family yet cannot resist the darkness of desire. Set in Nashville, Quatro continues

pushing buttons as she has done throughout her writing career. She lives in Lookout Mountain and teaches in the Sewanee School of Letters.

FINALIST: “The Magnetic Girl” by Jessica Handler

Hub City Press

Decades after the Civil War, a 14-year-old girl living in rural Georgia finds a book that teaches her how to captivate her family and friends through their thoughts. Based on a true story that makes one question spiritualism, Handler’s newest book joins a collection of essays, nonfiction work and a memoir. She teaches English at Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University.

FINALIST: “Unmarriageable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan” by Soniah Kamal

Ballantine Books

This debut novel by Kamal retells the Jane Austen story of “Pride and Prejudice” in

Teaching writing and American literature at Kennesaw State University, Grooms tells the story of two black couples lynched in Georgia. Based on true events that took place in 1946, the story is told from the perspective of three different people: one of the men who may have perpetrated the lynching, a witness to the murder of a 10-year-old and one of the men lynched.

This is a stirring story that explores race, oppression and violence that although set in the past strikes a chord today.

FINALIST: “Wild Milk” by Sabrina Orah Mark

Dorothy Project

Twenty-four short stories take readers on a journey filled with laughter and love through a collection of characters and tales. Each character we meet is fully fleshed out in stories filled with dialogue that will have you laughing and feeling a true connection, although they are fictional. Residing in Athens, Mark earned her PhD from the University of Georgia.

FINALIST: “The Wrong Heaven” by Amy Bonnaffons

Little Brown & Company

Athens resident Bonnaffons is pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia yet still had time to write this collection of short stories with strange and unusual circumstances. Take, for instance, the teacher who begins speaking to the plastic Jesus and Mary lawn ornaments that have decided to strike up a conversation. These are strange, unique and funny stories digging deep into the mysteries of the beyond and our deepest longings.

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