Southern Literary News
The 2020 Southern Book Prize Winners
(Asheville, NC) – Celebrate Independents! Announcing the 2020 Southern Book Prize Winners -- the best in Southern literature, from the people who would know . . . Southern Independent Booksellers and their independently minded customers. Designed to honor great Southern voices, The Southern Book Prize is awarded to books published in the previous year that are Southern in nature – either by a Southern author, or set in the South, or both.
Nominated by booksellers and selected via popular vote by Southern booksellers and their customers, the 2020 Southern Book Prize Winners were selected from a list of finalists from ballots submitted by over 1000 Southern readers, representing over 150 Southern independent bookstores. The chosen books represent the indie answer to the question “What was the best Southern book of the year?”
2020 Southern Book Prize Winners
The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler
Hub City Press, 9781938235481
“A grand, dark, mysterious historical novel filled with dark power and ambivalence, The Magnetic Girl captures a time and place, not only in the life of a teenage girl but in our country as well. Filled with the shifting longings of adolescence against a vaudeville backdrop, Handler's novel explores the dangerous journey from childhood to adulthood when our budding powers both enthrall and terrify us.” – Brian Lampkin, Scuppernong Books, Greensboro, NC
Tell Me A Story: My Life with Pat Conroy by Cassandra King Conroy
William Morrow, 9780062905628
“Cassandra King Conroy tells a compelling story of her courtship and marriage to Pat Conroy. As you can imagine, being with him was never boring, and Cassandra has the stories to prove it. Filled with laughter as well as tears, you will be carried through the ups and downs of Pat's life like the tidal current of Pat's beloved Battery Creek outside his Beaufort home. As hard as it is to read about Pat's sickness and death, Cassandra writes about it with compassion and love. Her words from the heart are truly beautiful.” – Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
Wednesday Books, 9781250144546
“Chokshi's dazzling world of alchemy and occult is unforgettable and I will dream of golden bees and gilded ballrooms until the sequel comes out. Astonishingly beautiful and fantastically imagined.” – Sami Thomason, Square Books, Oxford, MS
For more information about the Southern Book Prize:
For immediate release: January 1, 2020
|Announcing the 2020 Winter Okra Picks|
(Asheville, NC) Southern independent booksellers have selected thirteen titles for their 2020 Winter Okra Picks, their seasonal list of great forthcoming Southern books. The Winter Okra Picks publish in January, February, and March and feature southern voices, southern stories, and southern writers. Each and every one of them also has a cadre of southern bookseller champions, eager to place these books into the hands of adventurous readers.
Southern independent bookstores – we grow good books!
Hill Women by Cassie Chambers
"An honest narrative about the challenges of life in one of the poorest regions of the country while giving voices to the women who lifted up her life." –Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC
Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome (Illus.)
"How James Ransome hasn't been awarded a Caldecott yet is beyond me." –Elese Stutts, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC
Wilmington's Lie by David Zucchino
"This is truly a book to shake your world view." –Rosemary Pugliese, Malaprop's Bookstore/Café, Asheville, NC
Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain
"A wonderfully nuanced novel with two engrossing, engaging heroines." – Tracie Harris, The Book House, Mableton, GA
Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan, Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (Illus.)
"Just Like a Mama is the perfect way to honor everyone who fills the gap when Mama cannot always be there." –Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC
Remembrance by Rita Woods
"Rita Woods has blended together a story that is both historically and currently relevant, told across three timelines with four different protagonists, all women of color. This is an exciting and important book!" –Carl Kranz, Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA
The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
"Strong as a traditional true-crime recounting of murder, the investigation and subsequent trial…an allegory for the on-going challenges faced in the rough [Appalachian] landscape." – Doloris Vest, Book No Further, Roanoke, VA
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland
"A mix of memoir and biography. Anyone can paint a broad outline of a writer's life, but Shapland reveals Carson McCullers in a fresh way." –Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN
Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell
"It reads like a novel and is essential reading for southerners." –Lia Lent, Wordsworth Books, Little Rock, AR
The Boatman's Daughter by Andy Davidson
"Like a johnboat ride through the depths and darkness of the subconscious, under the canopy of the bayou." –Stuart McCommon, novel., Memphis, TN
Bells for Eli by Susan Beckham Zurenda
"Like visiting with a long-lost friend over a cup of tea." – Suzanne Lucey, Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC
The Last Taxi Driver by Lee Durkee
"A fairly thorough search for fairness and cab fare in the world that barely leaves the car or Mississippi. I laughed and (sadly) related." – Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
"A blend of Romeo and Juliet with Hatfield and McCoy, set in a 'nice' contemporary American neighborhood where 'these things shouldn't happen.' A heart-breaking, eye-opening must-read!" – Cathy Graham, Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda, FL
Authors 'Round the South | www.authorsroundthesouth.com
Sponsored by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, in support of independent bookstores in the South | SIBA | 51 Pleasant Ridge Drive | Asheville, NC 28805
When I was a kid in suburban Maryland in the 1970s and ‘80s, bookstores seemed ubiquitous. We had two independent bookstores at opposite ends of a single shopping center. The mall boasted one chain bookstore after another. Books were everywhere, and everybody in my family had a preferred store based on stock, layout, lighting, and staff personalities.
I wish I remembered the name of my favorite independent bookstore back then. Though I can’t recall it, I can tell you exactly what the store looked like. Glass-fronted on two sides, it had a mitered corner so as not to obstruct the view of the treasures inside. In fact, the first time my parents took me there, I learned the term “miter” from my dad, as I ran my pudgy index finger down the subtle seam that joined the windows.
Once they led me through the door, I completely forgot about the glass. All manner of books lay and stood before me. To my left, dozens of low, square platforms supported glossy coffee-table books with lush photographs and illustrations, neat columns of fiction and nonfiction hardbacks, and stacks of comic books arranged like ziggurats and epic Marvel-versus-DC mahjong games. To my right, mass-market paperbacks lined row upon row of free-standing shelves and, beyond these, rotating racks of still more pocket paperbacks.
Howard Carter’s first glimpse of King Tut’s tomb couldn’t have felt more momentous.
Every weekend, I contrived a pilgrimage to that bookstore. Toys "R" Us never saw another dime of my allowance.
Every weekend, I contrived a pilgrimage to that bookstore. Toys "R" Us never saw another dime of my allowance. From the checkout station near the door, a staff member always greeted us. Once they learned our tastes, they noted the newly arrived stock that would appeal to me and to whichever parent had the unenviable task of trying to limit my browsing and decision-making time. As if anything could be more important in their Saturday schedule than my evaluation of the relative merits of the latest Avengers and Justice League comics or competing titles that promised to unlock the secrets of Loch Ness, Project Blue Book, and the Bermuda Triangle.
In a way, I grew up in that bookstore. My interests expanded, and, guided by the always-helpful staff, I kept discovering new sections of the store I’d overlooked before. In my teen years, an allowance gave way to summer job money. A good thing, because the books that captivated me were more expensive. I learned to budget and save due to that bookstore. My first serious crushes were on the pretty cashier and several customers—which taught me how to deal with longing, rejection, and heartache.
I went off to college and, during spring break of my freshman year, I returned to find the store had closed, a victim of changing tastes and a sharp-toothed recession. This helped to teach me how to cope with loss.
Now, whenever I visit my local indie bookstore, I still get excited. Maybe I’ll discover something life-changing. I know exactly where on Earth I stood when I first felt that thrill of possibility.
George Weinstein is the author of six novels. His latest is the suspense thriller and 2019 Okra Pick Watch What You Say. George is also the once and current president of the 105-year-old Atlanta Writers Club and the creator and director of the nationally renowned Atlanta Writers Conference.
Veteran novelist Amy Greene (Bloodroot and Longman) and debut novelist Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne have several things in common: both are native Appalachians, both write about their mountain origins, and lucky for us, they both have a book coming out from Blair this fall. Elizabeth’s debut novel is Holding On To Nothing (pub. date 10/22/19). Amy Greene, with her husband Trent Tompson, edited Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia, a collection of essays and photographs in which writers write about each other and their homes in Appalachia (pub. date 12/1/2019).
Amy and Elizabeth sat down recently for a chat about their upcoming books.
Amy Greene: Elizabeth, I've had the good fortune over the past year to become familiar with you and your writing. We grew up in the same mountains, but you left East Tennessee to study at Amherst College and have now settled in Massachusetts with your husband and children. What moved you to return, as a storyteller, to your Appalachian roots?
Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne: I think home is home. When people ask me where I'm from, I still answer “East Tennessee,” even if they are actually asking what town I live in now so we can arrange for school pickup. It's just not a choice to give another answer. I've been a long time gone, but East Tennessee is still my home. And, perhaps because our childhoods are so formative, my brain and heart still beat with stories and characters, both real and imagined, from there. At some point, maybe I'll catch up and start telling stories from the place I've lived for a while now, but it hasn't happened yet. I also think that there may never be enough stories about our region, which is a shame given that through music and storytelling it's occupied such a formative place in American history. I just never tire of the people there, of how hard-working, joyous, and hilarious they can be, even when circumstances might dictate otherwise. It was such a gift to be from there, and I miss it every day.
Now, from me to you: What made you and Trent want to explore Appalachian writers through pictures and words? It is an absolutely stunning book, and I can't wait to put it out for people to read. Why did y'all want to explore that topic now and have other writers profile each other (which I loved!)?
AG: When Trent and I met at a writers' colony in the Tennessee mountains, we connected both because of our Appalachian roots and our love of literature. Since then, we've had countless conversations over coffee about how the arts—particularly the literary and visual arts—have given our people voices to tell their own stories, through words and images, in ways the media from outside the region often gets wrong. Those conversations over morning coffee became a vision for a coffee table book combining the literary and visual arts to show how the literature of Appalachia has helped to progress its entire culture.
ECS: I love that. Those conversations over morning coffee are sometimes the most universal ones! And I couldn't agree more about the portrayals of Appalachia. I started writing my book because I felt that the media from outside the region just didn't portray the people I knew accurately. When people tell their own stories, the full complexities of their lives get portrayed. That's what I tried to put on the page with Jeptha and Lucy's story.
AG: Now, a fun question: How did you celebrate when you learned that your debut novel would be published by Blair?
ECS: I celebrated the news the way I celebrate all good (and bad!) days in our house: I popped the top on a beer! Like Jeptha, my main character, I very much enjoy a good beer. I've gotten a taste for super hoppy New England-style IPAs over the years, and I always keep some craft IPA in the fridge. They are my go-to for celebrations! I especially love one from a local Cambridge brewery called Lamplighter, and my favorite of theirs is called Birds of a Feather. (I edited much of Holding On To Nothing after my kids went to bed while sitting at Lamplighter, nursing one beer over three hours and listening to bluegrass.)
AG: A very fitting way to celebrate! When I got a book deal for Bloodroot, I bought a pair of leather boots I'd had my eye on—but they were on sale, which probably speaks volumes about where I come from and how I was raised.
ECS: I love that. And yes, the on-sale part definitely does speak volumes about growing up where we did, doesn't it? One thing I loved so much about Appalachian Reckoning, the amazing book edited by Meredith McCarroll and Anthony Harkins, was that I learned the word bricoleur, a person who makes new things of the things they've collected around them. It was a fancy word for the way I grew up and the way I saw people all around me live.
Back to you:After writing such gorgeous fiction (Bloodroot and Long Man) for so long, how was it to be immersed in nonfiction, both the writing and the editing, for a while with Step Into the Circle? Was it hard to transition between the two?
AG: It wasn't too hard to put on my editing hat. For me, revising is more than half the writing process. It doesn't hurt that I learned from the best. My editor at Knopf, Robin Desser, is brilliant at what she does. Her editorial voice lives in my head, and I listened while reading the essays included in Step into the Circle. To be fair, there wasn't much editing to do, given the caliber of the writers involved in this project.
ECS: Editors are the best, aren't they? And, is it just us or is there something about editors named Robin?! [e.g., Robin Miura, editor at Blair]
AG: One last question (well, two last questions) for you: It sounds like as a writer you'll continue to mine the rich literary terrain of our homeland. What can we expect from you next? Are you working on another novel?
ECS: I'm almost done with the first draft of my next novel, and yes, it's set in East Tennessee! One or two of the characters from this book come back in that one, although the book is very different. I spent a lot of time in my twenties reporting on tuberculosis, now the number-one infectious killer in the world. It's a huge issue and not one that many people in the U.S. care about, despite there being regular, if small, outbreaks here. I wanted to write fiction about tuberculosis, but I also wanted to write another book set in East Tennessee. I found an article about a very infectious strain of TB that broke out in an OshKosh factory in Tennessee twenty years ago and thought, "A ha!" Currently, I'd describe the book this way:
Tennessee native Alice Campbell had been living happily in Kenya, working as a doctor, with her husband and two kids. But when her daughter Rosalind dies from an undiagnosed tuberculosis infection, Alice’s marriage falls apart and she will do anything to get away from the disease, even take over her father’s old medical practice back in East Tennessee, a place she swore she’d never move back to. Unbeknownst to anyone, however, a TB epidemic is about to rage through East Tennessee and the United States, and Alice is the only one with the experience, courage, and insight to fight against it.
And last question for you:What are you working on? I can't wait to read your next book!
AG: I'm so excited to see what you write next and how your writing life takes shape in general. I know great things are ahead, both for and from you!
Right now, I'm working on another novel set in East Tennessee as well, about a quarry town during the Great War. Working on Step into the Circle has been such an inspiration as I birth this third book, being steeped in the words of so many writers I admire.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for this conversation, and for sharing your beautiful story with me and the world!
ELIZABETH CHILES SHELBURNE grew up reading, writing, and shooting in East Tennessee. After graduating from Amherst College, she became a writer and a staff editor at the Atlantic Monthly. Her nonfiction work has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe, and Globalpost, among others. She worked on this novel in Grub Street’s year-long Novel Incubator course, under Michelle Hoover and Lisa Borders. Her essay on how killing a deer made her a feminist was published in Click! When We Knew We Were Feminists, edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan. Holding On To Nothing is her debut novel. She lives outside Boston with her husband and four children.
AMY GREENE's first novel Bloodroot was a New York Times and national bestseller. In 2010 Greene won the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Fiction. Her second novel Long Man was a Washington Post “Top Book of the Year.” In 2016 Greene won the Willie Morris Award for Southern Literature and was inducted into the East Tennessee Literary Hall of Fame. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times and Glamour magazine, among other publications. Greene has lectured and conducted workshops across the country. Amy is cofounder of Bloodroot Mountain, a nonprofit organization based in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.
Constance Lombardo’s debut picture book, Everybody Says Meow, publishes on November 5. She is the author/illustrator of the middle grade Mr. Puffball books, and lives in Asheville.
Bobbie: In your house, does everybody say “meow”?
Constance: Some say ‘meow’. Others say ‘woof,’ ‘tweet,’ ‘guinea pig noise,’ and ‘Mom, what’s for dinner’?
Bobbie: How was working on this picture book different from your middle grade novels?
Constance: I love MG novels, but picture books hold an extra special place in my heart. It’s like writing poetry, in a way, because every word counts. And every page has to make a splash, visually and textually, and lead naturally into the next, which must be both surprising and inevitable. Also, the thought of parents and librarians reading Everybody Says Meow to young children and (hopefully) making them laugh… that makes me SO happy!
Bobbie: Your Mr. Puffball illustrations are black and white, while EVERYBODY SAYS MEOW is full color. What was that like? Did you obsess over getting just the right colors for your illustrations?
Constance: Black and white is definitely my comfort zone. Working with color, (in traditional media – pen and watercolor) was a thrilling challenge, especially finding the right colors and keeping it consistent.
For example, I conceived Myrtle (the MC, whose name is never mentioned in this book of few words,) as pink. I tried every possible pink, until my wise Art Director said, ‘Maybe she should just be a gentle grey.’ I got out my Payne’s Grey, added water, and… Bingo!
"The image of a bossy kitten trying to get everybody to say meow popped into my head. As I developed it, the idea of everybody’s right to their own voice became clear."
Bobbie: Reviewers have said that MEOW is a book that celebrates diversity and inclusiveness. Did you have that theme in mind when you started writing? Or were you mostly thinking about cats (and ducks, and frogs)?
Constance: This book began with our quiet kitten Gandalf. When I fed him and our talkative older cat, Myrtle, she would MEOW like wild, while he simply stared. (adorable!) To encourage him to talk, I started saying, “See? Everybody says meow!”
The image of a bossy kitten trying to get everybody to say meow popped into my head. As I developed it, the idea of everybody’s right to their own voice became clear. So it evolved organically from my kitten inspiration and my personal beliefs.
Bobbie: What illustrators and authors inspire you?
Constance: So many! Some contemporary author/illustrators who inspire me include Sergio Ruzzier, Lauren Child, David Ezra Stein, and Jillian Tamaki (especially This One Summer.) Also, Emil Ferris, whose My Favorite Thing is Monsters proves beyond a doubt that illustration is Art. (w a capital A.)
Bobbie: When you got your BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University, did you think you’d end up illustrating children’s books?
Constance: I imagined doing illustrations for album covers. (Remember those?) I never thought about kids books until my kid was born (now 16.) I rediscovered my love of Arnold Lobel, Beatrix Potter, and William Steig. The rest is history. Or will be in a few decades.
Bobbie: What’s next for you?
Constance: My news is I’m learning how to use Procreate on the iPad. Digital art is more fun than I imagined. Thankfully, my teen helps me, when he’s in the mood to talk to me (infrequently.)
Bobbie: Finally, I have to ask: are you ever going to write a dog book?
Constance: Now that I have an old sweetheart of a beagle, signs point to yes (to quote the Magic 8 Ball.) The bigger question is: any editors out there looking for a book about an old, stubborn, but kind-hearted beagle with a nose for solving mysteries?
Constance Lombardo is an author, illustrator, and cat expert who can say meow in several languages. She is the creator of a middle grade series, Mr. Puffball, about a clever group of Hollywood cats. Stick Dog creator Tom Watson called Mr. Puffball “freaky, furry, and first-rate fun!” When she isn’t drawing or writing, Constance likes to visit the many waterfalls in Western North Carolina or rummage through Asheville’s local indie bookstores. Plus, she likes carrot cake. Visit her at www.constancelombardo.com.