Kimberly Garza's ('19 Ph.D.) dissertation for UNT's creative writing program began as a collection of short stories.
Now it's turned into a book -- The Last Karankawas, a novel of interconnecting stories about a community of families living in Texas that will be published Aug. 9. It fulfills a lifelong dream for Garza, who has been writing since she was a child and honed her work at UNT thanks to Distinguished Teaching Professor Miroslav Penkov.
"He has been there from the dissertation, when we were constantly polishing every story, working through each one several times, up until I was querying literary agents and navigating the publishing process for the first time," Garza says. "I'll say one of the best pieces of advice he's given me lately is to be patient with my writing, and to remember that the writing is the work -- not selling books, not winning awards. The writing is the important part, so take your time and write it the very best way you can. I hang on to those words constantly."
Once she sold the book to a major publisher, Henry Holt, an imprint of Macmillan, her editor suggested turning it into a novel since the stories were linked together. Garza and the editor worked together to make it more tightly bound during the revising process. But the inspiration -- her birthplace of Galveston -- remained the same.
"At the time I was first writing it, I was a little homesick," she says. "As a writer, I like to start with place and setting. I had Galveston on the brain. I kept coming back to it."
The book's stories branch to different parts of Texas, including Uvalde, where Garza grew up, and Brownsville, where her father is from. But Galveston remains at the heart, especially when its characters must face the effects of Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The Karankawa people also are part of Galveston. The Indigenous group from the Texas coast was long thought to be extinct, that they migrated or were killed off. Her characters question that history.
"There's a big history to Galveston that's fascinating and varied," she says. "The Karankawas are part of it."
Her characters reflect the life of Garza, who is of Filipino and Mexican descent. They are immigrants and transplants who question their identity and culture.
"It's just part of who I am," she says. "The theme weaves its way incessantly into my work."
And writing has always been a part of her. Garza has been scribbling in notebooks since she was a kid. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, and she worked as a journalist for travel magazines.
But she missed school and wanted to pursue a career in academia.
"I wanted time to research and write," she says. "UNT has an amazing writing program. I am very fortunate."
Now a professor of creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio, she's working on her next novel, about two Filipina American sisters who return to the Philippines to figure out the fate of their family's land there.
She is savoring the success of Karankawas, which has received praise from BuzzFeed and other publications.
"I'm dazzled," she says. "I'm also a little baffled. It is hard to grasp when it's been a dream for so long. I couldn't be more happy."