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Cynthia Leitich Smith wins NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature

Huge congratulations to long-time Austin SCBWI member Cynthia Leitich Smith on winning the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature! This prestigious biennial award connected to the University of Oklahoma and the magazine World Literature Today is given on the basis of “literary merit as well as the perceived importance of an artist’s overall contribution to children’s literature,” according to the official announcement.

Cynthia Leitich Smith author headshot

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cynthia was among nine highly celebrated children’s and young-adult authors to be named finalists for the prize, and joins authors like Mildred D. Taylor, Katherine Paterson, Meshack Asare, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Margarita Engle as NSK Neustadt Prize laureates.

Cynthia has long been a cornerstone of the Austin children’s literature community, both via her acclaimed work as a picture-book writer and novelist and via her consistent and generous support of fellow writers. The Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award is given each year at the annual Austin SCBWI conference and was named in her honor in recognition of her ongoing efforts to lift up fellow writers.

“As one of the earliest Austin SCBWI members,” she says, “I’m deeply grateful for the support of our community on every step of my writing journey. From the early critique groups to workshops, conferences, and monthly meetings, I’ve been blessed with your wisdom, enthusiasm, volunteerism, friendship and encouragement.”

The news that she had won the NSK Neustadt Prize “shocked” her. But, she says, “I’ve heard more than once, ‘Don’t rest on your laurels.’ At the moment, I’m continuing to teach at the VCFA MFA program, serving as author-curator of the Heartdrum imprint at HarperChildren’s, and working on new books. Coming up next, I look forward to the release of my anthology Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids and of Sisters of the Neversea, a modern, Indigenous middle-grade spin on J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy (also known as Peter Pan).”

Congratulations, Cynthia!