Recently selected by Oprah Winfrey for her acclaimed book club, one Austin writer is employing the power of historical fiction to bring attention to contemporary issues of class, race and sexual identity.
Nathan Harris's debut novel, "The Sweetness of Water," is a masterfully realized historical fiction novel that follows the struggles of two newly freed brothers in the fictional town of Old Ox, Georgia. It is set in the antebellum South, a stark moment when emancipated slaves and plantation owners were yoked to the project of reconstruction.
Winfrey described its release as "a Juneteenth celebration" on CBS This Morning. Juneteenth—the newest federal holiday—commemorates the end of slavery as the news of the signing of the emancipation proclamation took two months to reach some of the South.
An Oregon native, Harris has been in Austin since August 2017 when he was accepted into the Michener Center for Writers. Prior to this, Harris won the University of Oregon's Kidd Prize for creative writing while an undergraduate.
Harris chose the mode of historical fiction for what he describes as its freedom. He says historical fiction makes the reader detach from their opinions and assumptions because it is taking place in the past.
"The Sweetness of Water" started out as a strong mental image of newly freed slaves standing before their unknown futures. "I saw this scene in my head. I was imagining the freed slaves almost just standing there, deciding what they were going to do and that was sort of the launching point," Harris said.
In writing historical fiction Harris knows his first task is always to the story. "You want to do right by history. I did my best to do that. You don't want to just get it wrong, but if you don't allow for that space for fiction to arise… I mean at that point you're just writing nonfiction. Not my skill set."
Inspired by his affection for epic works such as "Cold Mountain" and "Lonesome Dove," as well as the audacious historical comedy of James McBride, Harris was determined to write a sweeping novel that dealt with deep topics.
"I always say I wanted to make one of those big meaningful books that kept us up as children, you know, or that we found as teenagers turning to love books," he says, adding that he is hopeful his readers will come away from his debut with "a sense of empathy for people who are unlike us."
Experience luxury grooming the old-fashioned way at a revival of the Driskill Hotel’s early 1900s barbershop put on by Austin-based Finley’s. The pop-up will offer men’s haircuts, beard trims, hot towels, neck massages and straight razor shaves. Click here to book an appointment.
9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday | The Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos St.
Catch veteran Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby touring with her newest show, “Body of Work,” written while she pondered the effects of the pandemic. Tickets are still available in the orchestra section, starting at $60.
Doors at 6 p.m. Friday | The Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave.
Alexander James O'Connor, AKA Rex Orange County, is returning to Austin to perform his newest album, “Who Cares?” Tickets are still available starting at $49 each.
Doors at 7:30 p.m. Friday | Germania Insurance Amphitheater, 9201 Circuit of The Americas Blvd.
Catch our local Minor League team play against the El Paso Chihuahuas at home this week. Tickets start at $22.
Starting 7:05 p.m. Friday | Dell Diamond, 3400 E Palm Valley Blvd.
Enjoy a night of indie-pop from Grammy-winning producer Jack Antonoff, whose stage name is Bleachers, from the intimacy of Stubb’s. Tickets are still available starting at $33.Starting 7:05 p.m. Saturday | Stubb's Waller Creek Amphitheater, 801 Red River St.
Catch the groovy, Bastrop-born brothers are taking their rightful place on stage with soulstress Latasha Lee at Antone’s. Arrive early, seating fills up quickly! The show is 21+ and tickets start at $15.
Doors at 7 p.m. Saturday | Antone's Nightclub, 305 E 5th St.
Famous former Longhorns Emmanuel Acho and Matthew McConaughey are joining forces for a Q&A about catching greenlights and living a limitless life. Each ticket will get the holder a copy of Acho’s new book, “Illogical: Saying Yes to a Life Without Limits.” Tickets are $39 per person.
1:15 p.m. Sunday | LBJ Auditorium, 2313 Red River St.
Austin FC is facing off against Orlando City at the biggest party in Austin, Q2 Stadium. Tickets are still available starting at $65 but ticketless Verde fans can still support at one of the many Pub Clubs.7 p.m. Sunday | Q2 Stadium, 10414 Mc Kalla Pl.
Over a year after they took the stage for the first time in Los Angeles, Austin FC returned to Banc of America Stadium to snatch the No. 1 spot from LAFC in a 2-1 statement win late Wednesday night.
Austin FC, which has flirted with the top spot in the MLS West this season, has now solidly reached the summit just a year after its second-to-last first season finish. The new top dogs are now 7-2-3 overall.
Here's a look at three highlights from the match:
Flashback in LA
For many Austin FC fans and naysayers alike, the match was more than a fight for the MLS West throne: it also served as a symbol of how far the team has come.
The two clubs first met on the Banc of America pitch as Austin FC saw its first game and first loss all at once in a 2-0 battle last April. It was an exciting but shaky start to the club's first season, and the loss seemed to set the tone for the rest of its inaugural year as the club dipped to second to last in the conference.
If Austin's first season was hallmarked by its first match, then its second-year success was foretold by its back-to-back five-goal victories to kick off the season.
Since then, the club has battled its own first-year shadow, claims of "bonus games" and a few unexpected obstacles—both on and off the pitch—but it has almost always come out on top.
That fight to the top was fully realized Wednesday, even as the club played its toughest opponent yet. Even with a man down in the middle due to Daniel Pereira's red card last game, the club kept its cool through even the trickiest moments of the match. Jhojan Valencia, who patched the Pereira hole in midfield, got his first MLS start and first MLS assist as Ruben Gabrielsen scored the first goal of the game.
Gabrielsen came to Austin FC as a potential hero for the team's center back position, but the club's resident Viking has already nabbed two goals in his first season with the team.
"That's center forward material," Austin FC announcer Adrian Healey said as Gabrielsen took control of Valencia's pass, paused to fake out the defense, and calmly tucked the ball into the left corner to complete the first goal of the match.
Even as LAFC dominated possession for much of the match, Austin FC saw another wide-open goal opportunity crumble as midfielder Diego Fagundez's shot hit the corner goalpost in the 23rd minute.
But Fagundez wasn't finished. The midfielder was short on his Verde hair dye but full of surprises as he nimbly sunk a shot over LAFC defense to make it 2-0 with 10 minutes to go.
Fagundez, who has spent more time setting up goals for his teammates (becoming the No. 1 assister in the MLS in the process), finally took the center stage with his second goal this season.
Owen Wolff, head coach Josh Wolff's own son, had a scoring opportunity of his own foiled by the goalpost as he started his first MLS match as one of the youngest starters in the league this season.
But Austin FC wouldn't score again; instead, LAFC powerhouse Carlos Vela made the win a bit trickier in the 86th minute as he got past Austin keeper Brad Stuver to cut the lead in half. The other Wolff quickly subbed in a five-prong defense as the club kept steady for the final 10 painstaking minutes to win the match.
BONUS: Stuver's career-making match
Six saves on the night in LA for Brad Stuver! 🚫 pic.twitter.com/02V6hcUd3Y— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 19, 2022
After two weeks on the bench due to a knee gash, Austin's star keeper Brad Stuver had the Stuver-iest match of all time (yes, we're making it a word) as he pulled off six saves to help his team to No. 1.
Stuver looked like a pinball machine as he pulled off save after save with his feet, hands and body to keep it nearly 100% clean on the back end.
- Dominguez, summer heat shrouds Austin FC in 1-0 LA Galaxy loss ... ›
- Masks, Meh-teh and a miracle chicken: Meet the 'cryptids' of Austin FC ›
- Austin FC spends less than most first-year expansion teams - austonia ›
- McConaughey meets Ferrell: Austin FC's first match is a battle on ... ›
- From 'MLS in Austin' to Austin FC's first match: A guide to the first ... ›