Alumna to lead groundbreaking Spanish creative writing doctorate
UH will begin offering the first doctorate in Spanish with a Creative Writing concentration in the U.S. in Fall 2017. The program will offered by the Hispanic Studies Department within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
UH alumna Cristina Rivera Garza, an award-winning author, created and will lead the program. Rivera Garza has written six novels, three collections of short stories, five collections of poetry and three non-fiction books.
“It seemed to me that the conditions were just right for a program like this, and I am very glad this is happening in a huge city, in a truly urban center such as Houston, with a very diverse population, where you could actually see, live, breathe in Spanish all over,” Rivera Garza said. “So this is the ideal place for a program like this.”
The University already hosts Arte Público Press, the largest publisher of Hispanic authors in the nation, and one of the highest-ranked masters and doctoral programs for creative writing in English.
Rivera Garza said these factors, in addition to a high number of bilingual faculty, make UH the ideal place to start such a program.
Rivera Garza said she planned this program for years, even during her time as the director of the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at the University of California, San Diego. But it wasn’t until she opened the doors at UH in Fall 2016 that the idea became feasible.
“There are not many Cristina Rivera Garzas, and the University was willing to invest to create a title for her because she is the first distinguished professor in the Hispanic Studies Department,” said Anadeli Bencomo, the associate dean of faculty and research for CLASS.
The Hispanic Studies Department currently offers doctoral programs in Spanish with concentrations in Literature and Linguistics. The Creative Writing program is the newest concentration available in the program.
“What Cristina and the department are looking (for is) not to have a program that is just for the University,” said doctoral research assistant Francisco Estrada Medina. “She is very concerned of reaching out to the community, to the Spanish speaking community in Houston.”
There are three well-known MFA programs in Spanish creative writing in the United States, at University of Texas-El Paso, New York University and the University of Iowa.
Rivera Garza said she wants to give writers from the United States, Latin America and Spain the opportunity to have the credentials to be academics and professors in universities around the world —something that is not possible without having a doctorate.
On July 4, 2016, Rivera Garza announced the new program via an article titled “Escritura Creativa” in Literal Magazine.
She wrote that starting the program in today’s United States was, in effect, an esthetic, ethical and political position for a country where the violent rhetoric of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had normalized discussion against immigration, especially Hispanic immigrants.
“When she wrote that piece, announcing that she was going to create that program, we were inundated by calls, by emails,” Bencomo said. “People started saying ‘This is genius, and nobody had thought about it before.’ UH was the first university willing to invest.”
Bencomo said the program’s application rate increased by 300 percent compared to what is common for doctorate programs in Spanish. Applicants had to submit a sample of creative writing, a statement of purpose and a community essay.
“Cristina is very concerned with the community,” Estrada Medina said. “She doesn’t believe in this kind of writer who is writing just by himself with no relationship to his community, and she is also very concerned with writers not being led by what we call inspiration.”
Bencomo said Rivera Garza is the ideal professor to lead the program.
“Cristina Rivera Garza is the type of writer who cannot be described by just one trait,” Bencomo said. “You cannot say she is a novelist, she is a poet, she is a professor, she is an intellectual. She is all of that and it is precisely that combination that make her right to be here at the powerhouse UH, because she is a power writer.”