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James L. Townsend, Atlanta magazine's founding editor, passed away in 1981 after a battle with cancer. At his funeral, several former close associates—including Pat Conroy, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Terry Kay—decided to launch a literary award in his honor. Recent winners inspire us to follow Townsend’s frequent admonition: “Brilliant, dear heart. Write it down. Write it all down.”
The papers, which Patterson housed at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg for many years, spill over in hundreds of confidential memos, personal letters, comedic repartee with fellow journalists, gossip, and accumulated materials of his estimable life and career.
“Child, what are you up to?” Instantly recognizing the voice behind me, I froze midway into shoving the crumpled dollar bill into the brown interoffice memo envelope. It was the morning of October 3, 1995. In Los Angeles, the verdict was about to be read in the O.J. Simpson trial. And on the eighth floor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Features Department, I was collecting up the office pool. As the department’s unofficial class clown/kid brother and a writer for the paper’s Peach Buzz column (the copy desk lovingly referred to me as Buzz Boy), this was in my job description. The voice behind me belonged to Celestine Sibley, a newspapering icon and state treasure. Red-faced, I explained to “ma’am” what in the hell I was doing (I never, ever called her Celestine. I had grown up reading her, after all). She toddled off and I assumed she was on her way upstairs to demand that the publisher fire me and then tie me to printing presses in the basement and use my blood to pump out the afternoon’s Extra edition. A minute later, Celestine handed me a dollar and said, “Put me down for a guilty.”