Cynthia Leitich Smith (1967-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1967, in Kansas City, MO; married Greg Leitich Smith (a children's author
and patent lawyer), September 4, 1994. Education: University of Kansas—Lawrence, B.S., 1990; University of Michigan Law School, J.D., 1994. Hobbies and other interests: Cats, superhero comic books, historic restoration and preservation.
Office—P.O. Box 3255, Austin, TX 78764. Agent—Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd. 10 Astor Pl., New York, NY 10003.
Writer. Law clerk for Department of Health and Human Services, 1994-95.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Western Writers Association, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, Writers League of Texas.
Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, 2 × 2 Reading List, Texas Library Association, Oklahoma Book Award finalist, Oklahoma Center for the Book, Storyteller Award runner-up, Western Writers Association, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Choice, and Library Talk Editor's Choice, all 2000, all for Jingle Dancer; Oklahoma Book Award finalist, and Writer of the Year award for Children's Prose, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, both 2001, both for Rain Is Not My Indian Name.
Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Rain Is Not My Indian Name, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Indian Shoes, illustrated by Jim Madsen, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including Horn Book, Library Talk, and Book Link. Stories anthologized in Period Pieces: Stories for Girls and Over the River and through the Woods: Stories about Grandmothers, both from HarperCollins, 2003.
Rain Is Not My Indian Name was adapted for audiocassette by Listening Library, 2001.
Work in Progress
Three novel manuscripts, two picture-book manuscripts in early stages.
A mixed-blood member of the Creek Nation, author Cynthia Leitich Smith explores contemporary Native American themes in her novels, picture books, and chapter books, while also focusing on loss, urban assimilation, and the importance of community. Smith's award-winning young-adult novel Rain Is Not My Indian Name focuses on a mixed-heritage teen who, while confronting a personal tragedy, gains understanding of her heritage, while the picture book Jingle Dancer finds a Creek-Chippewa girl honoring the women in her family while solving a personal difficulty.
Smith was born on December 31, 1967, in Kansas City, Missouri, and reading was an important part of her life. A shy child, she was also a great fan of comic books, a hobby she took up when she accompanied her father for a weekly outing to buy his gun-enthusiast magazines. Though her parents did not read literary fiction, they did instill in their daughter the importance of reading. Smith dictated her first poem to her mother as a first grader, and by grade six she was writing the "Dear Gabby" column for her school newspaper. In junior high and high school she edited the school newspapers, and at college at the University of Kansas she majored in journalism and English, intending to become a reporter. After graduating from the University of Kansas, she enrolled at the University of Michigan Law School, intending to become a legal reporter and media-law journalism professor. In addition to meeting the man who would become her husband, Smith also involved herself in Native American and feminist causes during law school.
While working as a law clerk after graduation, Smith began "scribbling stories after work and over my lunch hour," as she once told an Authors and Artists for Young Adults (AAYA) interviewer. She soon began to see that writing was what she wanted to do and decided to leave the law and begin a career as a children's author.
Smith's first publication, Jingle Dancer, tells of young Jenna, who determines to do the jingle dance for the next pow-wow. To get the cone-shaped jingles for her dress, Jenna visits several neighbors and relatives. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that Smith "convincingly juxtaposes cherished Native American tradition and contemporary lifestyle in this smooth debut," and Booklist contributor Connie Fletcher had similar praise, noting that the tale "highlights the importance of family and community."
Smith combines community, Native-American cultural traditions, and romance in her first novel for young-adult readers, Rain Is Not My Indian Name. Cassidy Rain Berghoff is one of a handful of people of mixed Native-American heritage living in her small Kansas town. Cassidy experiences more than her share of tragedy: her mother died after being struck by lightning, and now, just after celebrating her fourteenth birthday with her best friend Galen, who admitted his love for her, Cassidy learns that Galen too is dead, killed in a car accident. Torn by grief, she cannot deal with the loss until months later, when the death of a distant relative and participation in a community project force Cassidy to deal with her feelings.
Rain Is Not My Indian Name was greeted with critical acclaim. Carol Edwards, writing in School Library Journal, called the book a "wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her 'patchwork tribe,'" while Barbara Wysocki, reviewing the audiobook version for the same publication, dubbed Smith's work a "multifaceted, coming-of-age novel." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that the various plot lines and non-chronological narrative "make it difficult to enter Smith's complex novel," but added that readers will find an "ample reward" in the "warmth and texture of the writing."
Smith is also the author of the chapter book Indian Shoes, a collection of six humorous interconnected stories about Ray Halfmoon and his grandfather and their daily lives in urban Chicago and rural Oklahoma. While a Publishers Weekly contributor found the text somewhat "flowery" in its depiction of the "strong bond" between generations, a Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed the volume a "very pleasing first-chapter book," and described Smith's story as both "funny" and "heartwarming." Similarly, Anne O'Malley, reviewing Indian Shoes for Booklist, found the lead characters "charming," and the stories a "powerful, poignant evocation of a cross-generational bond."
In addition to her publications for young readers, Smith also maintains an award-winning Web site that serves as a resource through its interviews, links, and references. "I love to write," Smith once commented. "I love that I get to stay home—unless I'm speaking on the road—with my husband and cats. … I love that I can pretend all the time and make it my life's work. … I write for the child inside of me, for Native Americans and non-Indians, for kids from age four to age one hundred and beyond."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 51, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Better Homes and Gardens, July 11, 2000, Steve Cooper, "Raising a Reader."
Book, July, 2000, Kathleen Odean, "Debuts That Deliver."
Booklist, May 15, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Jingle Dancer, p. 1750; April 1, 2002, Judy Morrissey, "The Million Dollar Shot," p. 1348; June 1, 2002, Anne O'Malley, review of Indian Shoes, p. 1725.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of Indian Shoes, p. 499.
Library Talk, March-April, 2002, Sharron L. McElmeel, "Author Profile: Cynthia Leitich Smith."
Publishers Weekly, May 15, 2000, review of Jingle Dancer, p. 117; July 9, 2001, review of Rain Is Not My Indian Name, p. 68; April 1, 2002, review of Indian Shoes, p. 83.
School Library Journal, June, 2001, Carol Edwards, review of Rain Is Not My Indian Name, p. 156; November, 2001, Barbara Wysocki, review of Rain Is Not My Indian Name (audiobook), p. 77.
Teacher Librarian, October, 2001, Teri Lesesne, "Cheering for Books: An Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith," p. 51.
Writing for Kids, June, 2002, Alice Pope, "Sound off with Children's Writers."
Book Review Cafe, http://www.bookreviewcafe.com/ (December 1, 2002), interview with Smith.
Cynthia Leitich Smith Children's Literature Resources, http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/ (June 5, 2004).
Read the West, http://www.readthewest.com/ (December 1, 2002), interview with Smith.*
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