A blast from Austin’s past (April 2013, to be exact): me with Cynthia Leitich Smith. Photo by Jack Plunkett.

I’ve long claimed, based on a gut feeling and sense of home-city pride rather than on any actual data, that Austin has more children’s book authors and illustrators per capita than anywhere else in the United States. (Brooklyn surely has more, total, but in terms of sheer numbers it probably has more of everything else other than good Tex-Mex.)

So it made me quite happy this past week to read the overview and nifty history lesson “An Insider’s Guide to the Austin Children’s Book Community” — written by my friend and fellow local author Leila Sales — in Publishers Weekly:

The Austin children’s book community as we know it today began to take shape about 20 years ago. Before then, author, blogger, and Heartdrum curator Cynthia Leitich Smith recalled, “There absolutely were people who were actively and successfully publishing—the Shefelmans, the Guzmáns, Louis Sachar, Angela Shelf Medearis, Ruth Pennebaker—but there wasn’t an Austin SCBWI, there wasn’t a cohesive ‘scene.’ ”

Today’s writer community can be traced back to a workshop taught by Kathi Appelt, Newbery Medalist and “the fairy godmother of the Austin kidlit scene,” Smith said. (Appelt lives in College Station, about two hours east of Austin.) Energized by Appelt’s instruction, Meredith Davis went on to establish the local SCBWI chapter. “We didn’t have big names,” Smith said. “None of us knew what we were doing, but we loved each other, and we loved books, and we just sort of held hands and found our way through it.”

Speaking of Cyn, ginormous congratulations are in order:

World Literature Today, the University of Oklahoma’s award-winning magazine of international literature and culture, today announced Cynthia Leitich Smith as the winner of the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature.

Awarded in alternating years with the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the biennial NSK Prize recognizes outstanding achievement in the world of children’s and young adult literature.

My life and career would not be nearly as satisfying without the roles played in them by Cynthia Leitich Smith and the rest of Austin’s kidlit and YA community. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for all of us.