Mary Hood (b. 1946)
Mary Hood, a two-time winner of the Townsend Prize for Fiction, is acknowledged as one of the finest writers of fiction today. Her stories, which appear in numerous anthologies and textbooks, are set in her native Georgia, a terrain she knows from the southeastern coast to the northern Blue Ridge Mountains.
Mary Hood was born on September 16, 1946, in Brunswick to Mary Adella Katherine Rogers, a Latin teacher and native of Cherokee County, and William Charles Hood, an aircraft worker who hailed from New York City. When Hood was two years old her family moved to Bartow County. They lived in the Methodist parsonage in the town of White, where her maternal grandfather was a Methodist minister. They later built a house in Douglas County, and lived at various times in Worth and Dougherty counties.
Hood attended Georgia State University in Atlanta, earning a degree in Spanish, and began graduate work in chemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology before commencing a full-time writing career. In 1976 she settled in Victoria, a small community in Cherokee County outside Woodstock, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She remained there for thirty years before moving to Commerce, in Jackson County.
Hood's first collection of stories, How Far She Went, won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction (named for Georgia writer Flannery O'Connor) and was published in 1984 by the University of Georgia Press. The collection also recevied the Southern Review / Louisiana State University Short Fiction Award. The book's dedication, "For Little Victoria, big enough," stands as a memorial to the small rural neighborhood she lived in for decades. In How Far She Went, Hood establishes a motif that recurs throuhout her body of work, in which characters see the land they have lived on for generations disappear before their very eyes. Seven of the collection's nine stories are set in rural north Georgia, and all explore the plight of characters whose connections to home and family are shorted or severed, some irretrievably broken. Cut off from the source of life that has sustained them, they enter the modern world of isolation.
Hood expands on her first collection's theme of isolation in her second volume of stories, And Venus is Blue (1986). The belief nurtured in Hood by her parents, and rendered in her fiction as truth, is that connection to the land gives spiritual sustenance. Routed out by land-clearing for subdivisions and golf courses, the humans and animals in And Venus Is Blue struggle to survive their dying world. Mirrored in these stories is the gradual destruction of Hood's own rural neighborhood, where new shopping centers, trailers, rental homes, and junkyards overtake the countryside. But in her art Hood preserves the old folk who are disappearing, being taxed off their land, and she honors the people who worked with their hands. And Venus is Blue won the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists Author-of-the-Year Award, and the Lillian Smith Book Award (named for Georgia writer Lillian Smith and administered by the Southern Regional Council, University of Georgia Libraries, DeKalb County Public Library / Georgia Center for the Book, and Piedmont College).
In 1995 Hood published her first novel, Familiar Heat. A new collection of stories, A Clear View of the Southern Sky, appeared in 2015 as part of Pat Conroy's Story River Books series, published with the University of South Carolina Press. The collection was awarded the Townsend Prize the following year. A novella, Seam Busters (2015), was also published in Conroy's series.
In addition to the literary awards garnered by her fiction, Hood served in 1996 as the John and Renee Grisham Southern Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. She was also the first writer-in-residence at Berry College in Rome (1997-98) and at Reinhardt College (later Reinhardt University) in Cherokee County (2001), and was the first Southern Writer-in-Residence at Oxford College of Emory University in Atlanta (2009). During the winter short term of 1999 she was visiting writer at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, and that same year Kennesaw State University named Hood the Writer of the Decade in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Contemporary Literature and Writing Conference.