Bookshelf: 94 writers compete for Georgia Author of the Year

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Georgia Writers Association will announce winners on Facebook Live June 12.

After next week, 11 writers will be able to add the distinguished designation of Georgia Author of the Year to their resumes. Winners of the annual award will be announced by the Georgia Writers Association on June 12 during a live event on Facebook.

This year marks the 57th annual Georgia Author of the Year Awards and the second year the presentation has been held online. The transition to a virtual awards ceremony was precipitated in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was so successful it may remain online for the foreseeable future, said Jenny Sadre-Orafai, executive director of the Georgia Writers Association.

“It was nice to have a formal celebration and dinner and all that, but there’s something really nice about having this link, this artifact, that people can share with their family and friends and social media. It’s exciting to watch it live together,” she said.

Jenny Sadre-Orafai, executive director of the Georgia Writers Association
Jenny Sadre-Orafai, executive director of the Georgia Writers Association

Competing in 11 categories ranging from children’s book to literary fiction are 94 authors whose books were nominated by publishers, writers and readers. To qualify, books had to be published in 2020, and the authors have to either currently live in Georgia or had to have lived here when the book was written. In 2019, the Georgia Writers Association made the bold step of eliminating self-published books from competition in an effort to increase the award’s prestige.

Each category in the competition is judged by a single author who was selected from a pool of past winners and runners-up. And winners will receive a handcrafted award made by Atlanta ceramic artist Aleisha Ellis of Utility Objects pottery design studio.

“It’s important to us to highlight a different artist each year and have that kind of connection not only to Georgia but across the arts,” said Sadre-Orafai.

Adding suspense to the proceedings this year, the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award and Posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award, who have traditionally been announced along with the award nominees, have been kept under wraps. They will be revealed during the June 12 Facebook Live presentation and honored with videotaped tributes.

Among the award categories, Detective/Mystery is a particularly competitive field this year, with 12 authors competing for the prize, including Karin Slaughter for “The Silent Wife,” Iris Johansen for “Chaos,” and Brian Panowich for “Hard Cash Valley.”

Full-length poetry is also a highly competitive category with 15 nominees in the running.

“I don’t know where all these poets are coming from,” said Safre-Odafai. “I’m biased because I am a poet, but — while I think all writing is reflective — poetry is a way of making sense of what’s happening in the world. It’s a way of translating emotion, and, I think, given the last year in all respects, poetry is even more critical.”

You can find the full list of nominees at authoroftheyear.org, but here are a few worth noting:

Courtesy of Raised Voice Press
Courtesy of Raised Voice Press

Memoir: In “High Cotton” (Raised Voice Press, $16.95), Kristie Robin Johnson always finds the humanity in this collection of essays that take an unflinching but heartfelt and ultimately hopeful look at a lifetime of challenges that include a drug-addicted mother, poverty, single motherhood, divorce and more.

Other memoirs competing for the prize are “Good Company” by Arthur M. Blank, “Roll the Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Abuse and Racism” by Ann Hite and “Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir” by Natasha Trethewey.

Courtesy of Mercer University Press
Courtesy of Mercer University Press

First Novel: Kristine F. Anderson’s evocative debut novel “Crooked Truth” (Mercer University Press, $18) tells the story of 10-year-old Lucas, who works in the fields of his grandparents’ farm in 1948 South Georgia. He’s also tasked with watching after his mentally impaired uncle, Robert. When Lucas’ grandfather dies, Robert’s dangerous half-brother Alvin Earl arrives to run the farm, creating hardship and chaos that eventually erupts in violence.

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History: Filled with vintage and contemporary photographs, as well as newspaper clippings and a variety of documents, Lisa M. Russell’s “The Lost Mill Towns of North Georgia” (The History Press, $21.99) tells a deeply researched story across 11 counties. It includes a fascinating chapter devoted to the culture of the mill village, from household rules to the company store.

Also competing for the prize in History is “Pure Evil: The Machetti Murders of Macon, Georgia” (Mercer University Press, $18) by Jaclyn Weldon White, a gripping examination of a ruthless woman who orchestrates the brutal murder of her ex-husband and his newlywed wife.

"The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet" by Terry Kay
Courtesy of Mercer University Press
"The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet" by Terry Kay Courtesy of Mercer University Press

Literary Fiction: Told in three sentences that stretch across 61 pages, the novella “The Loneliest Band in France” (Texas Review Press, $19.95) by Dylan Fisher is an absurdist tale about a student who sets out to sell his blood and winds up performing in a competition with a band that plans to debut a song that can harm its listeners.

Also in the Literary Fiction category is “Pride of Eden” by Taylor Brown, “The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet” by Terry Kay and “Far Beyond the Gates” by Philip Lee Williams.

Winners of the 57th Georgia Author of the Year Awards will be announced beginning at 10 a.m. June 12 via Facebook Live on the Georgia Writers Association Facebook page.

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. svanatten@ajc.com.

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