Townsend Prize celebrates the best in Georgia fiction

The biannual award resumes after a one-year, pandemic-related delay

Townsend Prize celebrates the best in Georgia fiction
This year’s Townsend Prize winner Sanjena Sathian, alongside Townsend Director Clayton Ramsey.

Photograph by Kai Smith of eikönik images

On April 13, the biannual Townsend Prize for Fiction—named for Atlanta magazine’s founding editor, Jim Townsend—was awarded to Sanjena Sathian for her 2021 novel, The Gold Diggers.

When Atlanta started in 1961, writers like Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe were pioneering “New Journalism,” a revolutionary, literary approach to nonfiction storytelling. The next few decades proved a golden age of longform narrative, and few editors proved as visionary as our own founding editor, James L. Townsend, an Alabama native whom Time magazine later called the “father of city magazines in America.”

Though Townsend edited Atlanta for only six years, he had a profound impact on the city’s literary scene. He mentored such famed novelists as Pat Conroy, Terry Kay, and Anne Rivers Siddons. Paul Hemphill once wrote, “He could, quite simply, make you do better than you thought you could.”

Townsend passed away at the age of 48 in 1981 after a battle with cancer. At his funeral, several former close associates—including Conroy, Siddons, and Kay—decided to launch a literary award in his honor. Recognizing Georgia’s “best achievement in letters,” the prize was first awarded to beloved Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Celestine Sibley for her book Children, My Children in 1982.

Now administered by the Atlanta Writer’s Club, the group selects finalists from works of fiction by Georgia writers. In addition to The Gold Diggers, this year’s nominees were Daniel Black, Don’t Cry for Me; Kimberly Brock, The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare; Taylor Brown, Wingwalkers; Anjali Enjeti, The Parted Earth; Ann Hite, Haints on Black Mountain; Thomas Mullen, Midnight Atlanta; Lo Patrick, The Floating Girls; Josh Russell, King of the Animals; and Tiphanie Yanique, Monster in the Middle.