Cristina Rivera Garza Makes Literary History

Nuestro Stories Staff
 | May 13, 2024

In a 2024 literary milestone, University of Houston Professor Cristina Rivera Garza won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for her memoir, “Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice.” The prize, which was announced last week, was in the “Memoir or Autobiography category “for a distinguished and factual memoir or autobiography by an American author.” With the win, Rivera Garza makes literary history. She also brings awareness to the dark realities for some women in Mexico.

Rivera Garza Makes Literary History

Born on October 1, 1964, in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Rivera Garza has lived in both Mexico and the United States. She is fluent in both English and Spanish, and has taught history and creative writing at various universities, including the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Tec de Monterrey (Campus Toluca), and the University of California, San Diego.

Today she is a professor at the University of Houston, who embarked on a literary odyssey fueled by personal tragedy.

Her younger sister, Liliana Rivera Garza, was brutally murdered nearly 30 years ago by a former boyfriend. And Garza wanted to tell her story. With a determination to seek justice and bring awareness to domestic violence, Rivera Garza wrote “Liana’s Invincible Summer” and confronted the systemic failures that perpetuate violence against women.

“The book focuses on issues like domestic violence, courtroom corruption and gender violence, and is a mix of memoir, investigative journalism and biography,” Houston Public Media, a service of University of Houston, explains.

The Literary Journey Begins

Rivera Garza’s journey takes her from Texas to Mexico City. Armed with determination, she seeks answers, confronts memories, and unearths hidden truths. Her meticulous research reveals not only the specifics of Liliana’s case but also the broader struggle faced by countless women.

“Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice,” as the Pulitzer organization explains, is “a genre-bending account of the author’s 20-year-old sister, murdered by a former boyfriend, that mixes memoir, feminist investigative journalism and poetic biography stitched together with a determination born of loss.”

In interviews, Rivera Garza said she hoped the book would help solve her sister’s murder. But it was not easy to write, taking her years to just go through Liliana’s belongings.

“I was able finally to gather the courage to open up the boxes in which we had placed my sister’s belongings,” Rivera Garza told the New York Times in a 2022 interview. “I got access to, in a way, instructions that she left for me about how to go about telling the story of her life.”

Winning Awards Along the Way

Rivera Garza is no stranger to winning literary awards.

“Her previous six novels, three collections of short stories, five poetry books and two nonfiction works have collected numerous awards, including the Roger Caillois Award for Latin American Literature in 2013 and the Anna Seghers Prize in 2005,” the outlet Mexico Daily writes.

And she’s made literary history before. She is the only author to win the “Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize,” twice. In 2001, she won for “Nadie me verá llorar,” and, in 2009, for her novel ‘La muerte me da.”

But her latest win is considered the most prestigious in literature. And she says she shares it with her sister.

“I believe that this award belongs rightfully to Liliana,” Garza said when she won the Pulitzer. “This is a book that I wrote with my sister. It’s not just a book about her.”

By winning the prestigious award, Rivera Garza became the first Mexican to win a Pulitzer prize in literature.

Latinos and the Pulitzer

The Pulitzer Prize, established by Joseph Pulitzer’s will, honors excellence in journalism, literature, and music. While the Pulitzer Prize has recognized outstanding work since 1917, Latino voices have been underrepresented.  Rivera Garza was one of a handful of Latinos to win this year. Others include:

National reporting: Silvia Foster-Frau and Arelis Hernández, staff writers from the Washington Post won for their reporting on the “sobering examination of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.”

Poetry: Brandon Som won for his collection “Tripas: Poems.”

Illustrated reporting and commentary: Médar de la Cruz, a Dominican American cartoonist and illustrator, won for his work The Diary of a Rikers Island Library Worker in The New Yorker.

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