CLASS to offer country’s first Ph.D. program in Spanish with a concentration in Creative Writing

Next fall, CLASS will begin offering a unique Ph.D. program, and the woman at the helm is a CLASS alumna, Dr. Cristina Rivera Garza, a distinguished professor of Hispanic Studies and creative writing. The University of Houston is the only university in the country to offer a Ph.D. program in Spanish with a concentration in creative writing.

“University of Houston is the right place, and this is the right time to offer this program,” Dr. Rivera Garza said. “Houston is a large city with the cultural infrastructure to enhance the learning experience. In addition, UH is a Hispanic-serving institution and the home of Arte Público Press, the nation’s largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors.”

Dr. Rivera Garza is an award-winning author of six novels, three collections of short stories, five collections of poetry and three non-fiction books. However, her educational background is a bit unexpected.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and then she came to UH to complete her graduate studies. She earned a master’s degree and later a doctorate degree in Latin American History from UH.

“I decided to attend UH to study under Dr. John Hart, Moores Professor of History,” said Dr. Rivera Garza. “His research and published work on the Mexican Revolution was one of my interest areas.”

The entire time she was pursuing her degrees, Dr. Rivera Garza was also writing on the side. As her work began to be published, she found herself following two paths simultaneously — one studying history and the other as a creative writer.

“Those paths intersected as I worked on my doctoral dissertation,” she recalled. “I was researching the history of late 19th and early 20th century Mexico by examining the records of the inmates in a Mexican mental hospital.”

The mental health cases that she studied inspired her to write her first novel, "Nadie me verá llorar" ("No One Will See Me Cry"). The novel was translated to English from its original Spanish — her primary language — by Andrew Hurley.

Dr. Rivera Garza was born in the Texas Valley. Her grandparents were cotton-pickers on the Texas-Mexico border. Spanish was the first language she learned in her home, but she was surrounded by English on TV and in school. As a young girl, her family moved to Mexico where she lived until attending graduate school at UH.

After completing her graduate studies, she eventually found herself living and working in southern California at both San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego, where she taught Mexican History and later creative writing.

It was the unique opportunity to help build the Creative Writing in Spanish program at UH that was incentive enough for her to move from California back to Houston.

“The demographics of this country are changing,” she said. “Spanish is proudly the language of labor and work — but also the language of artistry and creation. Today there is an interest from Spanish speakers in the United States to write in both Spanish and English.”

Dr. Rivera Garza has received inquiries from prospective students from across the United States as well as from around the world. She has also seen interest from individuals with a variety of backgrounds — and she is excited by the idea of individuals from these varying backgrounds working together.

“We have so many resources within CLASS already — there are faculty members from various departments that we will work with; there are professionals experienced with editing, translation and publishing that our students will have access to; and we will incorporate technology to examine the bilingual brain,” she said.

She is looking forward to creating a program that will give students a variety of career options — from academia to public servants to editors and publishers.

“I want them to move beyond the idea of being the ‘isolated writer’,” she said. “Writers are never truly alone — we need to connect with our community, and our community is increasingly embracing Spanish as well as English.”

Visit Ph.D. in Spanish with a Concentration in Creative Writing for more information about the program.

CLASS to host event for Dr. Cristina Rivera Garza and the new Ph.D. program

CLASS is excited to be hosting an event to welcome Dr. Cristina Rivera Garza and celebrate the new Ph.D. program that she will be leading.

When: November 1, 2016
          5:30 – 7 p.m.

Where: Honors College Commons (212C)

For more information or to RSVP, contact Selma Segovia at or 713-743-8398.