Townsend Prize for Fiction
Every other year a board of judges awards the Townsend Prize for Fiction to an outstanding novel or short-story collection published by a Georgia writer during the past two years. The award is named for Jim Townsend, the founding editor of Atlanta magazine, the associate editor of Atlanta Weekly Magazine (of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), and an early mentor to such Atlanta writers as Pat Conroy, Terry Kay, William Diehl, and Anne Rivers Siddons.
The prize was conceived by a group of Atlanta writers in 1981. From 1981 to 1997 Georgia State University sponsored the award. In 1997 Georgia Perimeter College (later Georgia Perimeter State College) and the Chattahoochee Review assumed sponsorship. In 2000 the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum and Atlanta magazine became additional sponsors. By 2012 the award was cosponsored by the Southern Academy for Literary Arts and Scholarly Research at Georgia Perimeter, the Chattahoochee Review, and the Georgia Center for the Book.
The Townsend Prize consists of a $2,000 award and a silver tray of commemoration. On the occasion of the award's presentation to Ha Jin in 2002, the Chattahoochee Review editor Lawrence Hetrick explained that the prize is intended to recognize two accomplishments by a writer: "First, we're looking for excellence and originality in language. Second, we're looking for human insight."
The prize has served an important role in encouraging and promoting Georgia writers. Philip Lee Williams, who received the award in 1986, explains its importance to him: "Winning the Townsend Prize was extremely important for my career because it brought me to the forefront of Georgia media as a writer. . . . The day I won the award is still one of the happiest days of my professional life because my parents and wife were there for the award and because the novel for which I won it, The Heart of a Distant Forest, was my first book." Mary Hood, the 1988 winner of the prize, describes it as "a harvest celebration of the whole state's writing, not just the winner's. This is fertile ground, and there is much to celebrate."
The list of Townsend Prize winners reflects a diverse literary community, ranging from internationally known writers Alice Walker and Ha Jin to locally cherished authors Celestine Sibley and Ferrol Sams to established regional writers Pam Durban, Judson Mitcham, and James Kilgo. The most unexpected name on the list may be Ha Jin, who moved to the United States from mainland China in 1985 and taught with the Emory University creative writing faculty for ten years before moving north to teach at Boston University in 2002. Jin's presence on the Townsend Prize list signifies the increasingly international character of Georgia's literary landscape.
Winners of the Townsend Prize
Celestine Sibley, Children, My Children (1982)
Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1984)
Philip Lee Williams, The Heart of a Distant Forest (1986)
Mary Hood, And Venus Is Blue (1988)
Sara Flanigan, Alice (1989)
Charlie Smith, The Lives of the Dead (1990)
Ferrol Sams, When All the World Was Young (1991)
Pam Durban, The Laughing Place (1994)
JoAllen Bradham, Some Personal Papers (1996)
Judson Mitcham, The Sweet Everlasting (1998)
James Kilgo, Daughter of My People (2000)
Ha Jin, The Bridegroom: Stories (2002)
Terry Kay, The Valley of Light (2004)
Judson Mitcham, Sabbath Creek (2006)
Renee Dodd, A Cabinet of Wonders (2008)
Kathryn Stockett, The Help (2010)
Thomas Mullen, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers (2012)
Hugh Ruppersburg, University of Georgia
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.