At a time when mainstream media is under fire for its distance from real life, the Pulitzer Prizes have restored some of our hope. The 2024 edition of the Columbia University award recognized Mexican author Cristina Rivera Garza for her memoir “Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice.”

Alongside publications such as The New York Times, ProPublica, Reuters, and The Washington Post, Rivera Garza stood out for her brilliant storytelling. “Liliana’s Invincible Summer” details her return to Mexico City nearly 30 years after her younger sister was murdered by a former boyfriend.

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The book focuses on issues very close to the Latino community and fundamental to the reality experienced by women around the world, such as domestic violence, judicial corruption, and gender-based violence. More than a memoir, Rivera Garza’s work brilliantly combines fiction journalism and biography.

“I believe that this award belongs rightfully to Liliana,” Garza said of winning the prize considered the highest national honor in journalism, letters, drama, and music. “This is a book that I wrote with my sister. It’s not just a book about her.”

The powerful voice of Cristina Rivera Garza

Born in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Cristina Rivera Garza studied sociology at ENEP-Acatlán. She earned a master’s in Latin American history at UNAM and moved to the United States in 1989. D. in Latin American history from the University of Houston, where she is now a professor. Her dissertation focused on the subjugation of the human body to state power in Mexico’s asylums in the early 20th century.

Since the mid-1990s, the author has become a powerful literary voice. She has developed her teaching career on both sides of the border, living in Mexico City, Toluca, Houston, and San Diego. 

Following the Latin American literary tradition, for Rivera Garza, writing can be a matter of life or death, and that theme has marked much of her narrative. Her best-known works include the novel “Nadie me verá llorar (No One Will See Me Cry)” as well as her prolific career as a blogger. More recently, Rivera Garza coined the term “tweetnovel” as a timeline written by the characters.

“Cristina Rivera Garza’s talents as an educator are unquestionable, and her creative energies extend beyond UH’s classrooms into provocative works that resonate with readers from all walks of life,” said Diane Z. Chase, UH’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Earning a Pulitzer not only places her among the world’s top writers but is proof that our students are learning from one of this generation’s most distinct literary voices.”

When literature and gender-based violence meet

In 2019, Cristina Rivera Garza traveled from her home in Texas to Mexico City to try to make peace with one of the most painful chapters of her life. Her sister Liliana had been murdered nearly thirty years ago by an abusive ex-boyfriend, and the case remained unsolved.

“My name is Cristina Rivera Garza,” she writes in her request to the attorney general, “and I am writing to you as a relative of Liliana Rivera Garza, who was murdered on July 16, 1990.”

Inspired by feminist movements around the world and enraged by the worldwide epidemic of femicide and intimate partner violence, the author set out on her own path to justice. The result was “Liliana’s Invincible Summer,” a work of brilliant and painful prose. 

Rivera Garza tells a personal story that is also the story of millions of women around the world 

Liliana is a spirited and wonderfully hopeful young woman who tried to survive in a world of increasingly normalized gender-based violence. 

Rivera Garza traces her sister’s story, describing everything from Liliana’s early romance with a handsome but possessive and moody man to that exhilarating final summer of 1990 in which she loved, thought, and traveled more widely and freely than ever before.

Rivera Garza collected and preserved evidence. From handwritten letters, police reports, school notebooks, and interviews, the author follows the trail of her sister’s death, making her own progress in the investigation of the case. 

Shortly after the book’s publication in Spanish in 2022, Garza received an email tip that the suspect had been living in Southern California under an assumed name and had died in 2020, the same year Garza began working on the project.