Thomas Mullen has been awarded 2012’s Townsend Prize for fiction with his novel, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers. The novel, named one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month in January 2010, was up against the writings of nine other Georgia authors including Lynn Cullen, Ann Hite, Collin Kelley, and Joseph Skibell among others.
The Townsend Prize was started in 1981 to honor Jim Townsend, founding editor of Atlanta magazine. Every other year, the award is given to the Georgia author who is deemed to have written the best novel or short story collection in the previous two years. In 2010, the award went to Kathryn Stockett for the The Help, which was later turned into an Academy Award-nominated film.
The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, Mullen’s second novel, follows the bank-robbing brothers, Jason and Whit Fireson, through Depression-era America. The book starts out with the brothers allegedly dying after a shootout with authorities, but rumors quickly spread that they are still alive. This becomes a common routine for the brothers. To the American public, the Firesons, or “Firefly Brothers,” are heroes defying the odds and fighting back against a failing government. Their refusal to be vanquished by the powers that be comes to represent the strength and tenacity necessary to carry on in such dark times.
With many people drawing comparisons between the Great Depression and today’s economic and political climate, it’s clear that this book paints a picture with which many can identify. The reactions of Mullen’s characters to the country’s downfall range from calls for revolution, to self-loathing, to blind hopefulness. The relevance of the book’s themes can’t be denied and Mullen’s ability to effectively blend historical fiction with elements of fantasy makes for a special reading experience.
For his reward, Mullen will be presented with $2,000 and a silver commemorative tray on April 26 at the ceremonies held at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.