Mary Hood wins Townsend Prize for Fiction

“I’m trying to scare people a little more,” said short story writer Mary Hood, as she arrived at the DeKalb History Center in the Old Courthouse Thursday evening.

Hood and other Georgia literati were assembled to hear the verdict from the Townsend Prize judges, who would crown Georgia’s best writer of fiction during the biennium of 2014-15.

Past winners Terry Kay (“The Valley of Light”) and Thomas Mullen (“The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers”) were on hand, Mullen looking snappy in two-tone spectator shoes. A mandolin jazz trio played Miles Davis tunes as 160 attendees dined on small plates and sipped cocktails and listened to the keynote speech from T. Geronimo Johnson, author of “Welcome to Braggsville.”

By the end of the evening, Hood, who lives in Commerce, had been crowned, her short story collection “A Clear View of the Southern Sky” having scared off the competition.

(Hood said readers ask if she has much in common with her characters, but unlike the assassin who is the protagonist of the title story, Hood said she prefers a shotgun.)

Jim Townsend was the founding editor of Atlanta Magazine and an enormous influence on Georgia’s literary life. The Townsend Prize was created by a group of his friends and followers, including young novelist Pat Conroy, after Townsend’s death in 1981. Several years ago, Conroy created an imprint at the University of South Carolina Press called Story River Books, and counted Hood among his authors.

(Former AJC writer Steve Oney wrote a wonderful portrait of this moment in time for the Bitter Southerner.)

Conroy, who died in March, wrote the foreword for Hood’s collection, and once said, “Mary Hood has never written an uninteresting sentence in her life.”

The Townsend Prize is awarded every two years and is administered by the Chattahoochee Review and the Georgia Center for the Book. The other finalists for this biennium’s prize were “The Coming,” by Daniel Black; “Twain’s End,” by Lynn Cullen; “Driving the King,” by Ravi Howard; “An Isolated Incident,” by Soniah Kamal; “Song of the Vagabond Bird,” by Terry Kay; “Pretty Is,” by Maggie Mitchell; “Kismetwali & Other Stories,” by Reetika Khanna Nijhawan; “Bull Mountain,” by Brian Panowich”; and “Offerings From a Rust Belt Jockey,” by Andy Plattner.

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