'That Whole Decade Was Seminal': In Churl Yo's 'Austinites' Is A Love Letter To '90s Austin
“Chances are, if you’ve lived in Austin long enough, someone’s come up to you and said, ‘Oh, man, I remember Austin back in the day. It was so much better back in the day than it is now,’” says author In Churl Yo. “And for me, ‘Austin back in the day’ means Austin in the nineties.”
'Austin back in the day' – specifically back in Yo’s day – is the setting of his new novel Austinites. The story’s not autobiographical, Yo says, but it is inspired by his own younger life and the city as he remembers it at that time. “That’s right after I graduated college; I started working at Texas Monthly magazine. You know, I was trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life and who I was going to be. And that whole decade was captured for me as being seminal – not only as a person but as a writer as well. And so I wanted to pay homage to that time in my life.
“Austin felt smaller back then, it was less crowded, the cost of living was lower,” Yo says. “There weren’t whole sections of this town that had been gentrified and some would say had lost their flavor, you know? Austin was a lot different in the nineties.”
The book’s set in nineties Austin, but its inspirations also go a little deeper into history – Yo says that as a young writer, discovering Kerouac and other Beat Generation authors had a big impact on him. “The Beats play prominently in my book,” he says. “And not only that but in the style and the content of the book as well. A lot of them wrote about their own lives, especially Kerouac.”
In keeping with its Beat Generation inspiration, Austinites takes some artistic liberties and presents what Yo says is a stylized version of the past. “It’s that whole romantic thing,” he says. “It’s about embracing the creative part of writing, it’s about romance, about finding love, about being with your friends, listening to music, that whole scene. Yeah, it is a romanticized version of it. But I think in large part it’s kind of how I remember it now, you know?”
Yo says there’s no shortage of nostalgia in Austinites, but that it’s really less about those specific references and more about the personal journey of its protagonist, Carl Young. “I do name drop a lot of venues that aren’t in Austin anymore, and artists that performed weekly shows,” he says. “[But] the book isn’t hinging on that as being the thing. It’s really about this writer who just happens to live in Austin, who’s trying to discover himself.”