2016 Finalists


About The Coming: Lyrical, poetic, and hypnotizing, The Coming tells the story of a people’s capture and sojourn from their homeland across the Middle Passage, a traumatic trip that exposed the strength and resolve of the African spirit. Extreme conditions produce extraordinary insight, and only after being stripped of everything do the people discover the unspeakable beauty they once took for granted.

About the author: Daniel Omotosho Black was raised in Blackwell, Arkansas, and now teaches at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned a Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple University and then returned to Clark Atlanta as a professor with the hope of inspiring young black people to believe in themselves. His heart’s desire is to write literature that celebrates the African American presence in America and teaches the world how to be human. Black is the author of Twelve Gates to the City, Perfect Peace, a finalist for the 2012 Townsend Prize, They Tell Me of a Home, and The Sacred Place.

About Twain’s End: In March of 1909, Mark Twain cheerfully blessed the wedding of his private secretary, Isabel V. Lyon, and his business manager, Ralph Ashcroft. One month later, he fired both and proceeded to write a ferocious 429-page rant about the pair, calling Isabel “a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded and salacious slut pining for seduction.” Twain and his daughter, Clara Clemons, then slandered Isabel in the newspapers, erasing her nearly 7 years of devoted service to the family. So how did Lyon go from being the beloved secretary who ran Twain’s life to a woman he was determined to destroy? In Twain’s End, Lynn Cullen tells the story of a forgotten woman behind a great literary figure, giving her a voice that has been silenced throughout history.

About the author: Lynn Cullen grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her previous novel, Mrs. Poe, was a national bestseller, a Target Book Club Pick, an NPR 2013 Great Read, and an Indie Next selection. Cullen lives in Atlanta surrounded by her own large family, and, like Mark Twain, enjoys being bossed around by cats.

About A Clear View of the Southern Sky: A Clear View of the Southern Sky, Mary Hood’s third short-story collection, reveals women in the 21st century doing what women have always done in pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. From stories depicting a Hispanic woman whose mission is to assassinate a mass murderer, an agenda triggered by post-traumatic stress, to a kindergarten teacher stunned by a student’s blurted-out question as she discovers her deepest vocation and the mystery of its source, to a novella filled with a diverse cast of women workers in a rural Georgia textile mill sewing camouflage for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Hood demonstrates how these women have come—by circumstances and choice—to the very edge of their known worlds. Some find courage to winnow and move on; others seek the patience to risk and stay. Along the way, hearts, bonds, speed limits, fingernails and the Ten Commandments get broken. Dust settles, but these women do not.

About the author: Mary Hood is the author of the novel Familiar Heat and two short story collections: How Far She Went, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the Southern Review/LSU Short Fiction Award, and And Venus is Blue, winner of the Lillian Smith Award, the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and the Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists Author of the Year Award. Hood’s work has also been honored with the Whiting Writers’ Award, the Robert Penn Warren Award, and a Pushcart Prize. A 2014 inductee into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, Hood lives and writes in Commerce, Georgia.

About Driving the King: World War II is over, America’s GIs are returning, and Nat King Cole is back in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, for a rare performance. When a white man attacks Cole, Cole’s childhood friend, Nat Weary, leaps from the audience to defend him—an act that will lead to a 10-year prison sentence. As Weary languishes in prison, Cole does not forget his friend and the sacrifice he made for him, and 6 months before his release from jail Cole offers Weary a job as his driver and bodyguard. From his position as Cole’s chauffeur and protector, Weary sees the capacity for human cruelty hiding behind Hollywood’s glittering veneer while at the same time demonstrating how the loyalty of friendship can rise above the trappings of fame and the darkest secrets of pre-Civil Rights America.

About the author: Ravi Howard won the 2008 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence for his novel Like Trees, Walking. He was also a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/Pen Award. Howard has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Hurston/Wright Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the New Jersey Council on the Arts. Howard’s work has appeared in Callaloo, the Massachusetts Review, The New York Times, and on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” As a sports producer with NFL Films, the author won an Emmy in 2005 for his work on “Inside the NFL.” Howard lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Learn more about Ravi Howard at

About An Isolated Incident: Zari Zoon, a vivacious girl from Kashmir, is looking forward to marrying her fiancé when tragedy strikes. Next thing she knows, she is on a plane to America to stay with the Nabis, distant family relatives, who have offered to give her a temporary home to help her stitch back the tatters of her life. Billy Nabi, fiercely tender-hearted, longs to help Zari, but the choices he makes jeopardize them all. An Isolated Incident is a saga of haunting memories and yearnings for a lost home, of a faith continuously tested and questioned, and a love that blossoms against all odds.

About the author: Soniah Kamal was born in Karachi and grew up in London, Jeddah, and Lahore. She has lived in myriad states in the U.S., and at present calls Georgia home. Kamal has a B.A. in philosophy from St. John’s College where she received the Susan B. Irene Award. She is earning an MFA from Georgia State University where she is a Paul Bowles Fiction Fellow. Kamal’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Butter, Pank, The Rumpus, Huffington Post, x0Jane, Bustle, ArtsATL, and more. An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the KLF French Fiction Prize. Learn more about Soniah Kamal at

About Song of the Vagabond Bird: When he arrives on Neal’s Island for 10 days of intensive group therapy to treat his obsession for Kalee, a woman he cannot forget, he brings with him the pseudonym of Bloodworth. Pseudonyms are a requirement to participate in Dr. Carson X. Willingham’s unconventional and often bizarre seminars—a deliberate lie to inspire the search for a needed truth. What Bloodworth discovers is an island of ghosts, an island of intense, but fragile, relationships founded on deceit, and yet, an island strangely harboring the yearned-for promise of healing. It is in this environment that Bloodworth finds himself faced with the delicate question of honesty, as he tries to free the memory of his Kalee, and begin his new journey into the uncertainty of what might be.

About the author: Terry Kay, a member of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, is the author of 15 works of fiction, including To Dance with the White Dog, The Book of Marie, The Greats of Cuttercane, Bogmeadow’s Wish, The Valley of the Light, Shadow Song, The Year the Lights Came On, and a recent book for young readers, The Seventh Mirror. Three of Kay’s novels have been produced as Hallmark Hall of Fame movies. Learn more about Terry Kay at

About Pretty Is: The summer precocious Lois and pretty Carly May were 12 years old, they were kidnapped, driven across the country, and held in a cabin in the woods for 2 months by a charismatic stranger. Nearly 20 years later, when Lois has become a professor, teaching British literature at a small college in upstate New York, and Carly May is an actress in Los Angeles, drinking too much and struggling to revive her career, a movie script with a shockingly familiar plot comes into their lives, the two women must face the unresolved fissures of that preadolescent summer.

About the author: Maggie Mitchell has published short fiction in a number of literary magazines, including the New Ohio Review, American Literary Review, and Green Mountains Review. Originally from upstate New York, Mitchell now lives in Georgia with her husband and cats, and teaches English and creative writing at the University of West Georgia. Pretty Is is Mitchell’s first novel.

About Kismetwali & Other Stories: Set against the backdrop of modern-day India, Kismetwali & Other Stories places the reader amidst circumstances that transcend place, purse, and prestige. The octet of novellas offers a rare glimpse into the parallel lives of the privileged and penniless, converging on those astonishing moments when free will intercepts fact and the rigid divide between social classes is rendered insignificant. Each narrative showcases walas and walis of the working class—the common yet essential purveyors of goods and services—as empowered individuals who take centre stage. The shavewala, a humble barber, becomes an intimate collaborator in a love story that spans the seven seas, the malishwali, a long-serving masseuse, conceals her mistress’s shocking secret while offering a gift of revelation to another. These socially eclipsed characters are the true protagonists in every story, striking a universal chord about how connected we are to each other, even across the fault lines of class and race.

About the author: Reetika Khanna Nijhawan was born and raised in a small town in northern India. While growing up, she travelled the world extensively with her father, an officer in the merchant navy. After receiving her degree in psychology from Delhi University, she worked as a flight attendant with Lufthansa German Airlines before settling down to write for Elle and Elle Décor in Mumbai. Nijhawan later moved to Atlanta, where her work has been published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Khabar magazine. Kismetwali & Other Stories is her first work of fiction. Nijhawan penned the novellas in the collection over time while waiting in the carpool line outside her daughter’s school. Learn more about Reetika Khanna Nijhawan at

About Bull Mountain: Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction.

About the Author: Brian Panowich is currently a firefighter in East Georgia, living with his wife and four children. He has several stories available in print and online. Two of his stories, “If I Ever Get Off This Mountain” and “Coming Down the Mountain” were nominated for a Spine Tingler Award in 2013. Bull Mountain is Panowich’s first novel. Learn more about Brian Panowich at

About Offerings from a Rust Belt Jockey: Long-time jockey Carl Arvo knows the things he can have and the things he cannot. An unexpected turn of fortune gives him the chance to be with a woman, Christine Fleming, who in some ways is the person he’s been looking for his entire life.

About the Author: Andy Plattner is a longtime horse racing journalist who has published two short story collections, A Marriage of Convenience and Winter Money, the latter of which won the Flannery O’Connor Award. Plattner chronicled the evolution of the Kentucky Derby in A History of the Run for the Roses, which was a finalist for the Castleton Lyons Book Award. Offerings from a Rust Belt Jockey is Plattner’s first novel and was the winner of the 2015 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award.