Seattle writer Nathan Harris’ debut novel “The Softness of Water” is the winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, awarded annually by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to a fictional writer African American emerging. The winner receives $ 15,000.
The 15th annual Gaines Prize will be presented to Harris at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 25, at the Manship Theater at the Shaw Center for the Arts. The award is presented in honor of the late Gaines, whose stories gave voice to African Americans in rural areas.
âI am deeply honored to have received the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence,â said Harris. âMr. Gaines’ fiction continues to move readers around the world, but the impact it has had on level, with communities all over Louisiana and around the world. Its mission was to promote literacy and the love of literature, and I do not take lightly that I now have the opportunity to continue this mission. I am following in Mr. Gaines’ footsteps and in the footsteps of previous recipients of this award, and this is the highest honor of all. “
Harris’ novel, set in the final days of the Civil War, is about an unlikely bond between two freed men who are brothers and the Georgian farmer whose alliance will change their lives, and his, forever.
Noting that Harris is 29, the Washington Post called his book a “miracle.”
Harris graduated from the Michener Center at the University of Texas in 2020 with an MFA. He won the Kidd Prize from the University of Oregon and was a finalist for the Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize.
Oprah Winfrey selected her book for her global book club, helping it enter the New York Times bestseller list for two weeks in July.
The Gaines Prize is determined by a national jury which selected the winner from 36 entries, a record number of eligible entries.
Previous award winners include “Everywhere You Don’t ‘Belong” by Gabriel Bump, “Lot” by Bryan Washington, “A Lucky Man” by Jamel Brinkley, “Birds of Opulence” by Crystal Wilkinson, “Welcome to Braggsville” by T. Geronimo Johnson, “The Cutting Season” by Attica Locke, “We Are Only Take What We Need” by Stephanie Powell Watts and “How to Read the Air” by Dinaw Mengestu.
Gaines was from Oscar in the parish of Pointe CoupÃ©e, which was the setting for several of his novels. Among his many honors, Gaines has received a National Medal of Arts Award, a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, and the National Humanities Medal. He was a member of the French Order of Arts and Letters. Her critically acclaimed novel “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” was adapted into a TV movie which won nine Emmy Awards. His 1993 novel “A Lesson Before Dying” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.