Monday, November 28, 2022

Q&A with Kimberly Garza



Kimberly Garza is the author of the new novel The Last Karankawas. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Copper Nickel and DIAGRAM. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio.


Q: What inspired you to write The Last Karankawas, and how did you create Carly, Jess, and the rest of your cast of characters?


A: The first kernel of the story came when I visited my family in Galveston in late 2008, only a few months after Hurricane Ike devastated the island. I was driving down Broadway with my uncle and he pointed out that the tops of all the trees, beautiful live oaks that lined the highway, were brown—they were dead.


I couldn’t get that image out of my head, along with many others from that day there: trash heaps, debris, boats tossed on the sides of the road. When I sat down to write a new story, I started with place—Galveston, post-Ike—and I worked backwards to figure out the characters.


Carly came first, and her grandmother Magdalena after that, and then Jess. The story kept building over the years I worked on it, and the rest of the cast evolved at different times along the way. I was motivated to write not just a novel about Galveston and Hurricane Ike, but one of this neighborhood, the places and the types of people you can find on the island as well as in other corners of Texas.


Q: As you mentioned, the novel takes place in Galveston, Texas, during Hurricane Ike in 2008. Can you say more about how important setting is to you in your writing?


A: Setting is crucial to me. I often start there as an access point into a new story. I sit in a space, think of all of the nuances of a place and setting—geography, landscape, weather, specific details. And from there, I think of characters—the kinds of people found here, for whatever reason, and what their lives and desires and fears might look like.


It was that way when I considered Galveston for this novel, which is a place made up of both locals and tourists at any given moment. So many origin stories of the people who find their way there.


Q: The Booklist review of the novel says, “Written in lyrical, nearly hypnotic prose that makes the reader feel the Texan humidity, this is a brilliantly plotted, startling, and richly rewarding exploration of the myths that bind people together, generational traumas, and the remarkable adaptability of humans.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’m honored by this description, and so many good ones I’ve received! I was genuinely concerned with the idea of “history” in this novel—whether that’s history of record or the kind passed down through family, and how much of our histories are comprised of myth as well. Where do we draw the lines there? How much of our ancestors’ history is bound up in us, and do we have a responsibility to that?


And most of all, I love knowing that this book spotlights the many ways people adapt—to weather and environment, to migration, to loss and love. How we survive.


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The novel is told in stories, and I got the title story’s name from a dear friend, writer and poet Sebastián Páramo (the original story was called “The Warriors”). But when I sat down to title the novel, I didn’t hesitate to name it after this story.


Not only is it central to the narrative—in that it concerns Ike, and Carly and Magdalena and Jess, the main three characters—but I love the way it plays with truth. In Magdalena’s mind, she and Carly are the last Karankawas. But Carly has her own doubts, and in reality, the Karankawas are not extinct or wiped out at all. So I like that this title signifies some of that shifting “truth,” mythology and history. It can be read with an asterisk or a question mark!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m at work on my second novel, a story about two American adult sisters who have become estranged from each other and their larger family in the years following the death of their mother. But when they learn they have inherited ancestral land in the Philippines, they have to travel together and reconnect with their mother’s family on the islands, to decide what to do with the land.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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