About the Author: Long Version

At the Illumine Award Banquet

Cynthia Leitich Smith is a bestselling, award-winning children’s-YA writer, writing teacher, and the author-curator of the Native-centered Heartdrum imprint at HarperCollins Children’s Books. She also is the 2021 NSK Neustadt Laureate.

Her 2023 release is HARVEST HOUSE, an Indigenous YA ghost mystery. Cynthia is the author of several award-winning children’s books, including: JINGLE DANCER, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME, and INDIAN SHOES, all published by HarperCollins. Her debut tween novel RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME was named one of the 30 Most Influential Children’s Books of All Time by Book Riot, which in addition listed her among 10 Must-Read Native American Authors. Cynthia was also named a Writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers in recognition of RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME.

Art by Nicole Neidhardt; design by Molly Fehr

In 2021, Cynthia celebrated the release of a middle grade anthology, ANCESTOR APPROVED: INTERTRIBAL STORIES FOR KIDS (Heartdrum, winter 2021) and middle grade novel SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA (Heartdrum, summer 2021). She looks forward to the release of THE BLUE STARS graphic novel series, co-authored by Kekla Magoon, illustrated by Molly Murakami (Candlewick, spring 2023).

ANCESTOR APPROVED received four starred reviews, won the Reading the West (Young Readers) Book Award, and is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, an ALA Children’s Notable Book and a Kids Indie Next List Pick. It also was named to the ILA, Kirkus Reviews, Chicago Public Library, NY Public Library, Shelf Awareness, and Bank Street Best Books of 2021 lists.

Art by Floyd Cooper; cover design by Catherine San Juan

SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA received six starred reviews and was named to summer reading lists by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. It also was named to the Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Chicago Public Library, American Indians in Children’s Literature; Politics & Prose, and Parents Magazine Best Books of 2021 lists.

Her novel HEARTS UNBROKEN is the 2020 winner of the American Indian Youth Literature Award in the YA division, given by the American Indian Library Association. The novel also was named to YALSA’s Amelia Bloomer list and received the 2018 Foreword Reviews Book Award Silver Medal in Young Adult Fiction, among other honors. In addition, she is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling YA author of the FERAL trilogy and TANTALIZE series. These novels were released by Candlewick Press in the U.S., Walker Books in the U.K. and Australia/New Zealand, and additional publishers around the globe. Her upcoming YA novel HARVEST HOUSE will be released in spring 2023.

Cynthia has been twice featured at the National Book Festival. Her titles have been honored among Notable Children’s Trade Books in Social Studies, Oklahoma Book Award finalists, NEA Choices, CCBC Choices, Bank Street Choices, Children’s Crown List selections, YALSA Popular Paperbacks, Writers’ League of Texas award winners, TLA Spirit of Texas (YA) choices, and more.

Cynthia was the first Spirit of Texas Young Adult author by the Young Adult Round Table of the Texas Library Association and the first young adult author to be honored with the Illumine Award by the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation. The Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators also instituted the Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award in her honor. She also is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.

She serves on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, where she holds the inaugural Katherine Paterson Endowed Chair.

Cynthia has previously served on the advisory board of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Plus, she has served on both the advisory board and honorary advisory board of We Need Diverse Books and currently coordinates the organization’s annual Native writing workshop. She is based in Austin, Texas, and a citizen of Muscogee Nation /ma(:)skó:k-î/.

Cynthia’s website at was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column. School Library Journal said of Cynsations, “If you read only one blog, this is it!”

Cynthia has written several poems, essays and short stories. Highlights include:

  • “Superhero,” which appears in HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong (Pomelo Books, 2021);
  • “Stories for Dinner,” which appears in THANKU: POEMS OF GRATITUDE, edited by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Marlena Myles (Millbrook, 2019);
  • “Amazing Auntie Ann,” which appears in I REMEMBER: POEMS AND PICTURES OF HERITAGE, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Lee & Low, 2019);
  • “Girl’s Best Friend,” which appears in THE HERO NEXT DOOR, edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Random House, 2019);
  • “All’s Well,” which appears in VIOLENT ENDS, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse, 2015);
  • “Cupid’s Beaux,” which appears in THINGS I’LL NEVER SAY: STORIES ABOUT OUR SECRET SELVES, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015);
  • a letter in DEAR TEEN ME: AUTHORS WRITE LETTERS TO THEIR TEEN SELVES, edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally (Zest, 2012);
  • “Mooning Over Broken Stars” (a companion to a story by Joseph Bruchac), which appears in GIRL MEETS BOY, edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Chronicle, 2012);
  • “Isolation,” which appears in DEAR BULLY: 70 AUTHORS TELL THEIR STORIES, edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones (HarperTeen, 2011);
  • “The Wrath of Dawn,” which appears in GEEKTASTIC: STORIES FROM THE NERD HERD, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009);
  • “Cat Calls,” which appears in SIDESHOW: TEN ORIGINAL TALES OF FREAKS, ILLUSIONISTS AND OTHER MATTERS ODD AND MAGICAL, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009); and
  • “Haunted Love,” which appears in IMMORTAL: LOVE STORIES WITH BITE, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2008);
  • “Riding with Rosa” which appears in Cicada magazine (March/April 2005);
  • “A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate,” which appears in MOCCASIN THUNDER: AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES FOR TODAY, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005).

More Information

Cynthia was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Her states of residence have included: Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Texas. Currently, she lives on Jumanos, Nʉmʉnʉʉ (Comanche), Sana, and Tonkawa ancestral land in a city currently called Austin.

Michigan Law School reading room

She graduated with degrees (in news/editorial and public relations) from the White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, Lawrence in 1990 and (in law) from the University of Michigan Law School in 1994. At Michigan Law School, she was a co-founder and senior editor of The Michigan Journal of Gender & Law. Cynthia also studied abroad in Paris, France during the summer of 1991 at Paris-Sorbonne University in conjunction with Tulane University Law School.