Author Leah Myers, who earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Orleans, had prepared herself to wait. She anticipated the literary agency rejection letters.
After all, she recalled thinking as she waited for replies from a batch of submissions, this was her debut book.
“I didn’t have a book to my name,” said Myers, who graduated in 2021. “I had writing credits in magazines but didn’t have a history, so they were taking a chance on me.”
Sure enough, the rejections—nicely worded as they were—did come. However, Myers didn’t have to wait much longer. A promising letter arrived in 2021.
“I re-read it probably four times and I immediately excused myself to go outside to walk around because I couldn't stand still anymore,” Myers said. “I had to go somewhere and be excited!”
The agent, Paul Lucas of Janklow & Nesbit Associates, was interested in the book and wanted to shop it around at publishing companies.
Having someone outside her support system excited about her work was “amazing,” Myers said.
“It was incredibly validating and very surreal,” Myers said laughing at the memory.
And on May 16, her debut memoir, “Thinning Blood,” was published by W.W. Norton & Company, the same day as a review of her book appeared in The New York Times.
“I’m still reeling,” Myers said.
The New York Times book review section receives hundreds of books daily from publishing companies and authors with the hopes of getting a mention in one of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers.
Myers’ prose was not only selected, but it also received a rave review.
“I knew they were going to review it but had no idea who or what they would say,” Myers said. “I was really glad to see somebody connect with my work and praise it, especially in such an open platform.”
Just two years after submitting the book, which she started while enrolled at UNO, Myers earned a book deal and has been on the road with book signings, readings and panel discussions.
“In my heart, I’m a storyteller; that’s my role,” Myers said. “I’m not really great at public speaking so writing is my way of telling and preserving stories and histories.”
“Thinning Blood,” is a personal reflection of her Indigenous ancestry and the dwindling numbers of tribal citizens. Myers wrestles with the possibility of being the last tribal citizen in her family line of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of the Pacific Northwest.
The tribe, like many others, bases its membership on blood quantum.
“A big part of my book revolves around the idea of blood quantum,” Myers said. “What that means is that certain tribes will have for their enrollment policies a level of blood that someone has to be Native American.”
In Myers’ tribe, the blood quantum is one-eighth. Her great-grandmother was the last full-blooded S'Klallam in Myers’ family line, she said. In the book, she takes a generational look as she traces her “thinning blood” from her great-grandmother to herself.
“I am one-eighth,” Myers said. “Unless I have children with another member of the tribe, they would not have enough native blood to be considered tribal citizens.”
Myers draws the title of her book from that tribal blood quantum law. She often contemplates the possibility of her family’s tribal lineage ending with her.
“I think about it a lot,” Myers said. “It’s a big part of why this book exists. I found out the tribal enrollment numbers and realized how many of us are at one-eighth.”
In 2019, there were 542 total tribal members, Myers said. Of that number, 297 members were listed as one-eighth S'Klallam. Only tribal citizens can be involved in tribal politics and participate in tribal meetings.
“It was scary to think that there were so few people and so many people’s children who won’t be citizens,” Myers said. “Where does that leave the tribe if there are so few children and fewer every generation?”
Myers was raised in Georgia and did not grow up experiencing her tribal heritage. She had visited her ancestral land which is in Washington state along the Olympic Peninsula.
Prior to starting graduate school, Myers spent a year in Washington soaking in the history, traditions and customs. One of the traditions that she was able to experience was the annual canoe journey. All of the tribes in the area come together to make trips around the coast of the peninsula.
“Tribes host different landings at different beaches and have feasts and songs,” Myers said. “It’s really an event that encapsulates community and heritage.”
Myers credits UNO’s Creative Writing Workshop for helping her craft the book.
“It started in those workshops with my peers and mentors there,” said Myers. “I learned the best practices for writing … the faculty taught me important life lessons as well.”
Myers recalls advice given by one of her professors during her first semester at UNO: Stop making excuses for bad writing.
“The degree helped me in so many ways,” Myers said. “I’m so proud of what I did there. I couldn’t have written the book without it.”
Editor’s note: If you know a UNO grad who is doing interesting things, send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Alumni Spotlight.”