2020 Petrichor Prize winner
Martha Anne Toll grew up in Philadelphia, passionate about ballet, classical music, and education. Her mother and father kept alive the Jewish adoration of the written word by reading aloud to her. She has always been a voracious reader. Libraries and bookstores remain favorite haunts.
As a young girl, Martha had the good fortune to study at the School of the Pennsylvania Ballet. What she lacked in talent, she made up for in enthusiasm. In high school, Martha also fell in love with the viola and with its chamber music and orchestral repertoire. She studied with Max Aronoff, a founding member of the Curtis String Quartet. Max taught her three critical life lessons: (1) The music is in the rests; (2) if you break things into component parts, you’ll figure out how to put together a coherent whole; and (3) practice, practice, practice. Martha performed as a semi-professional orchestra and chamber music player in college and beyond.
Martha is a passionate advocate for racial and social justice. She recently completed twenty-six years as the founding Executive Director of the Butler Family Fund. Under her leadership, the Fund developed and expanded two major philanthropic programs with a deep commitment to racial equity: advocacy to end homelessness and to fight injustices in the criminal “justice” system.
Martha’s debut novel, Three Muses, is the 2020 winner of Regal House Publishing’s Petrichor Prize for Finely Crafted Fiction. A love story, Three Muses explores the emotional power of music and dance, the interplay of time and memory, and what it means to lead a disciplined life. Three Muses also received Honorable Mention for the 2020 Landmark Prize for Fiction (top five finalists), was long listed for the 2019 Dzanc Fiction Award (top 10 out of 700 entries) and was a finalist for the 2016 Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Award. Excerpts from Three Muses have appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Yale’s Letters Journal, Slush Pile Magazine, and Poetica E Magazine. Martha’s fiction has also appeared in numerous other publications, including Catapult Magazine.
Martha regularly publishes book reviews and essays on NPR Books and in The Millions, as well as in the Washington Post, The Rumpus, Music & Literature, Bloom, Scoundrel Time, After the Art, and others. Martha also served as nominator and critic for NPR’s 2017, 2018, and 2019 book concierges. Her personal essay, “Dayenu,” was selected for inclusion in the anthology Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of Covid-19.
Martha is a three-time Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and was awarded a 2019 residency at Monson Arts and at Dairy Hollow for 2020. She shares her love of books as a frequent interviewer at Washington DC’s beloved independent bookstore Politics & Prose.
Martha graduated from Yale College and received a law degree from the Boston University. School of Law. She lives with her husband, a climate activist, and their espresso machine just outside of Washington, DC. They are the lucky parents of two daughters.