Strange Tale of Georgia County’s Racism and Ethnic Cleansing Wins Major Award

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Brambleman, a novel by Jonathan Grant, wins the Benjamin Franklin Award for popular fiction during IBPA ceremonies in New York on the eve of Book Expo America

Jonathan Grant’s gritty, supernaturally-tinged tale of racism, redemption, and revenge in Forsyth County, Georgia, has won the Independent Book Publishers Association’s 2013 Gold Benjamin Franklin Award for popular fiction. The Franklins were presented at the IBPA’s annual meeting in New York City on May 29 in a prelude to Book Expo America.

Brambleman (Thornbriar Press, $18.95, ISBN 978-0-9834921-2-2) tells the story of homeless Atlanta writer Charlie Sherman, who is tricked by a stranger to finish a dead history professor’s book about one of the most terrible acts of racism in America — the mob-driven expulsion of 1,000 African Americans from Forsyth County, Georgia in 1912. During the course of his work, Charlie uncovers a more recent crime that has enriched a Forsyth County family. When the writer becomes convinced he’s been chosen by a Higher Power to wreak justice and vengeance upon those who profit from evil, things get really weird.

"This is not a dry, historical treatise," Grant says. "It’s often wildly funny, with an otherworldly twist and a protagonist who resorts to very non-heroic tactics. Along the way, he doubts his sanity and motives, as well as the true identity of who–or what–he’s working for."

The novel is an outgrowth of the author’s work on his late father Donald L. Grant’s magnum opus, The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia (UGA Press), a Georgia "Book of the Year" and Editor’s Choice of American Heritage magazine. Grant has published a previous novel, Chain Gang Elementary. His third work, Party to a Crime, is scheduled for publication later this year, and he is currently writing a novel about a drone strike on a small town, entitled The Unhappy History of Higgston, Missouri.

Historical Background: Forsyth County, famous as the birthplace of Hee-Haw’s Junior Samples, has for most of the past century existed as an intentionally all-white community bordering Atlanta since 1912, following one of the 20th century’s most violent racist outrages, the expulsion of more than 1,000 black residents. In 1987, the sleepy community gained notoriety when a small march led by civil rights icon Hosea Williams was broken up by rock-throwing Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and their sympathizers. Bloody but unbowed, Williams returned the next week with 25,000 followers in one of largest civil rights marches in history. There was talk of reparations. Oprah came and did her show. Protests and counter-protests yielded a landmark Supreme Court case. But most importantly, white people flocked to Forsyth. It became the nation’s fastest- growing county, Georgia’s richest, and one of the twenty wealthiest in the U.S.

Author Bio: Jonathan Grant grew up on a Missouri farm and graduated from the University of Georgia. The former journalist and state government spokesman lives in Atlanta with his wife and two children.

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