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River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize

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Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus

A Daughter's Civil Rights Journey

Ana Maria Spagna

Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus chronicles the story of an American family against the backdrop of one of the civil rights movement’s lesser-known stories. In January 1957, Joseph Spagna and five other young men waited to board a city bus called the Sunnyland in Tallahassee, Florida. Their plan was simple but dangerous: ride the bus together—three blacks and three whites—get arrested, and take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Fifty years later Ana Maria Spagna sets off on a journey to understand what happened and why. Spagna travels from her remote mountain home in the Pacific Northwest to contemporary Tallahassee, searching for the truth of the incident and her father’s involvement. Her journey is complicated by the fact that her father never spoke of the Sunnyland experience and died unexpectedly when she was eleven. Seeking out the other bus riders, now in their seventies, Spagna tries to make sense of their conflicting stories. Her odyssey becomes further troubled by the sudden diagnosis of her mother’s terminal cancer. Winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction prize, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus deftly weaves cultural and personal history, memoir, and reportage in this fascinating look at a family and a nation’s past.

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The Untouched Minutes

Donald Morrill

What would you be willing to do to save someone, perhaps someone you loved? On a moment’s notice, for instance, would you lunge between that person and an assailant’s knife strike? In that same situation, what would you be willing do for yourself? And what if there were nothing, ultimately, to be done?

These and other such questions live in the untouched minutes—questions most of us are, fortunately, never compelled to answer, though the media exposes us daily to the stories of those who are. In February 2001, on what started out as a typical Sunday afternoon, Donald Morrill and his wife Lisa Birnbaum became the victims of a home invasion and found themselves faced with the specter of ultimate contingency. In The Untouched Minutes, Morrill recounts and examines the events of that day and its aftermath as well as the circumstances surrounding the murders of Dartmouth professors Half and Suzanne Zantop, which occurred the same week.

Set against the unfolding drama of post-9/11 America, The Untouched Minutes explores how violence and the threat of violence color and recast one’s assumptions and can plot the course of people facing the unknown, the unknowable, the irredeemable. Morrill presents a memorable portrait of what it means to take back the life that, finally, wasn’t taken, and in the process he offers a powerful meditation on terror and security, home and travel, art, race, luck, and our individual places in the wider world.

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