Winners: Present & Past

Winner of the 2018 Townsend Prize for Fiction
Julia Franks
Over the Plain Houses
Publisher: Hub City Press, 2016


Julia Franks has roots in the Appalachian Mountains and has spent years kayaking the rivers and creeks of Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she teaches literature and runs, a web service that fosters free-choice reading in the classroom. Over The Plain Houses is Julia’s debut novel, for which she has won the 2017 Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award, the 2017 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Literary Fiction, the 2016 Southern Book Prize, and a Gold Independent Book Publishers Award (IPPY) in Literary Fiction.

About Over the Plain Houses

It’s 1939, and the Federal Government has sent Virginia Furman—USDA agent and thoroughly modern woman—into the North Carolina mountains. Her mission: to ease hard-living rural homemakers into the twentieth century. It’s here, amongst the bonnets and home-bakes, that Virginia meets Irenie, the shy and shuffling wife of a local preacher.

It’s a dangerous friendship for the women to pursue. Irenie’s husband, Brodis—threatened by modernity—has been acting strangely, his peculiar brand of fundamentalism warping into survivalist hellfire. Fearing his touch, Irenie starts to ramble at night through the woods, storing strange keepsakes in a mountain crevice and sneaking back into bed with supernatural stealth . . . unaware, all the while, that she’s being stalked by the Bible-haunted man who fears his government and is staking his integrity upon an older way of life. Convinced that Irenie is consorting with the devil, Brodis brings about an act of violence that shakes his entire community, while his strained marriage threatens to explode.

Past Winners of the Townsend Prize


2016 — A Clear View of the Southern Sky by Mary Hood

2014God Carlos by Anthony Winkler

2012The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen

2010The Help by Kathryn Stockett

2008A Cabinet of Wonders by Renee Dodd

2006Sabbath Creek by Judson Mitcham

2004The Valley of Light by Terry Kay

2002The Bridegroom: Stories by Ha Jin

2000Daughter of My People by James Kilgo

1998The Sweet Everlasting by Judson Mitcham

1996Some Personal Papers by JoAllen Bradham

1994The Laughing Place by Pam Durban

1991When All the World Was Young by Ferrol Sams

1990The Lives of the Dead by Charlie Smith

1989Alice by Sara Flanigan

1988And Venus is Blue by Mary Hood

1986The Heart of a Distant Forest by Philip Lee Williams

1984The Color Purple by Alice Walker

1982Children, My Children by Celestine Sibley