The Georgia Review was delighted to learn that Jacob Baynham’s essay “Jerry’s Dirt,” published in our Fall 2019 issue, has won a National Magazine Award in the Profile Writing category of the 2020 National Magazine Awards for Print and Digital Media, administered by the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). The “Ellies” awards ceremony was held virtually on May 28.
Jacob Baynham, a freelance journalist and essayist based in Missoula, Montana, has written about criminal justice for The Christian Science Monitor and about parenting for Outside magazine, and has reported internationally for Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate, and other publications. “Jerry’s Dirt” chronicles the remarkable life of fiction writer Jerry McGahan, Baynham’s late father-in-law.
“I didn’t know it, but I started reporting this piece when I first met Jerry, thirteen years ago,” Baynham says. “Something about him made me pay attention when he told a story and made me notice the way he did things. On the surface, his life looked simple, but deeper down, it was the complex byproduct of his values, priorities, and also a lot of hard work. After his death, I knew I wanted to write about him. I didn’t know what that would look like, how long it would take, or who would publish it. But I followed the story, and it’s the hardest, most rewarding piece I’ve written. I was surprised to be nominated and absolutely thrilled to win this award. Jerry avoided the limelight, but this has really thrust him into it, which is gratifying to all of us who knew and loved him.”
“Jerry’s Dirt” appeared in the final Georgia Review issue edited by Stephen Corey before his July 2019 retirement. Over a twenty-year period, The Georgia Review published seven stories by McGahan, two of which were reprinted alongside Baynham’s essay. In Corey’s words, “to come upon a surprise about a previous surprise”—the discovery of McGahan’s stories—“makes for a rare and marvelous moment, and that is what happened when Jacob Baynham submitted ‘Jerry’s Dirt.’”
“What a remarkable win for Jacob, Stephen, and The Georgia Review staff,” says current editor Gerald Maa. “Any Ellie is noteworthy, but to be honored in a longform genre against such titans of the publishing world is truly special.”
Established in 1966, the National Magazine Awards for Print and Digital Media are sponsored by the American Society of Magazine Editors in association with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. “Originally limited to print magazines, the awards now recognize magazine-quality journalism published in any medium,” ASME’s press release states. The other finalists in Profile Writing were “Elizabeth Warren’s Classroom Strategy” by Rebecca Traister (New York); “Walking Time Bomb” by Amy Wallace (New York); “Rick Steves Wants to Set You Free” by Sam Anderson (The New York Times Magazine); and “What Are You Laughing At?” by Vinson Cunningham (The New Yorker).
“Jerry’s Dirt” will also appear in The Best American Magazine Writing 2020, published by Columbia University Press.
The Georgia Review congratulates all winners and finalists of this year’s Ellies! See the full list.