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Kimberly Garza started out as a short story writer before publishing her novel. Photo taken at the Nowhere Bookshop on Broadway in San Antonio by Brandon Fletcher/University Relations
Arts and Culture

Between the Lines

UTSA professor and writer Kimberly Garza uses her new novel "The Last Karankawas" to explore identity

From a young age Kimberly Garza loved to read and always had the desire to rewrite endings or write the sequel that didn’t exist. The UTSA associate professor of creative writing is now writing her own stories, including her debut novel, “The Last Karankawas,” which has gained high praise and explores how a place can mean many different things across generations and cultures.

Sombrilla Magazine spoke with Garza about how she’s shedding light on the communities in Galveston, while also exploring her multicultural identity as the daughter of a Filipina immigrant mother and a Mexican American father through her characters.

What is your relationship to Galveston, where your novel takes place?

KG: I was born in Galveston while my father was in medical school and my mother was a nurse. My mother was an immigrant from the Philippines, and over the years her family started coming over to live in Texas. There’s a big thriving Filipino community there, and I have really fond memories of Galveston. It has a special place in my heart, so I tried to write it in the book, but I didn’t want it to be paradisical. It’s got grit, it’s got reality. It’s ugly in a lot of ways, and I mean that with love. I wanted to portray it in this realistic kind of way in the book.

Book cover of The Last KarankawasYour family ended up moving to Uvalde. How did that influence you as a writer, and how did it also influence “The Last Karankawas?”

KG: I had wonderful English teachers who encouraged me to read and gave me books to read that inspired me to write. I think of my freshman English instructor who was the first one to give me a book by a Latina writer, who was Sandra Cisneros. I remember reading that and thinking that this is somebody who writes about characters who sound like us and whose lives looked very similar to mine. I felt very lucky that I had a lot of teachers and librarians and people in Uvalde who made the world a little bit bigger through literature. I hope that I’m doing something similar with this book, and maybe with what I write in the future. If you’re the kind of person who’s never seen some aspect of yourself on TV or in a book, then when you find it, it’s powerful.

How does it feel to debut your first novel, but specifically one that represents Filipinos and Mexican Americans?

KG: The feeling of debuting a novel and just having a book published, it really was a dream for me. But as far as the book being representative of Filipinos or Chicanos — I think a lot of pressure comes with that, especially if this will be the first time people will read about us. I am very proud of it and take the responsibility seriously. So, I try to speak to that, especially to young writers and readers in these communities. I try to be a good example that we can do this, too.

What encouraged you to move from writing short stories to writing a novel?

KG: At a certain point as a writer, I think you just have to push yourself. I wrote “The Last Karankawas” as a collection of short stories at first. That helped me as a short story writer because it wasn’t quite as intimidating as saying, Now sit down and write a novel. But I do think as writers, if you’re not challenging yourself then you’re not growing. So, I like the idea of challenging myself constantly, and I feel rewarded by that challenge.

Learn about Kimberly Garza’s essay life growing up in Uvalde.

As an associate professor of creative writing at UTSA, what do you hope to teach your students?

KG: One of the things I love the most about teaching creative writing at UTSA is the fact that I’m in a classroom with people who are writers. One of the greatest joys that I have teaching undergraduate creative writing is giving students all kinds of resources and tips on drafting, submitting, and publishing their writing. These are things that I never knew about until I was well into graduate school.

How do your write a novel while also balancing being a professor?

KG: I was taught and still hear it a lot, “You have to write every day,” but my life just simply doesn’t accommodate that sometimes. I try to write at least a couple times a week, and usually I tell myself that I just have to prioritize writing—even for just 30 minutes. That’s hard if you have a demanding job, so there’s a constant battle of trying to adjust. Whether it’s getting up a little bit earlier or staying up a bit later or finding 30 minutes of free time. 

To read Kimberly Garza’s articles, books or stories, visit her website 

Kimberly Garza smiles while standing in front of bookshelves.
Kimberly Garza started out as a short story writer before publishing her novel.

What is it like for you to be here at UTSA so close to home?

KG: It’s been fulfilling to me to go to work every day and be around people who grew up where I grew up. I enjoy teaching students where this may be their first time seeing a professor who looks like them or sounds like them. So, I’ve been very fortunate and feel very embraced. 

Before your novel, you wrote many essays and short stories that focus on ethnic communities. What sparked your passion to write about them?

KG: As a young writer, I had to shift gears into realizing that I could write about myself or that I could write about my communities, my experiences or my people. It took me a couple of years, and I asked myself, Can I make her have brown hair instead of blonde? Or Can I make her have a last name with an a at the end of it? So, I think it became an exploration, and once I figured it out and got my footing, I ran with it. I’m proud of my background encompassing several things. There’s something very specific about being Mexican American, but especially being Mexican American in Texas and even more so in South Texas. And there’s something specific about being the child of an immigrant and Filipino American. I want to celebrate the commonalities of this kind of beautiful experience being many things at once but also places where they clash a bit.

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Jerry Nielson
November 18, 2023 5:03 pm

Being story tellers is a powerful way to mentor and be a “light” to others.

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