The New Nonfiction 2023

From the September/October 2023 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Thinning Blood: A Memoir of Family, Myth, and Identity (Norton, May), a debut work of personal history exploring four generations of women in the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe of the Pacific Northwest, blending tribal folktales, Native mythology, and the history of Native genocide to tell a story of family, heritage, and identity. Agent: Paul Lucas of Janklow and Nesbit Associates. Editor: Matt Weiland. First Lines: “No one taught me to be Native American. My mother taught me that I was, but she did not have the context for what that heritage meant. My grandmother mentioned it very little, even though it was visible in her features. Yet from my earliest memories, being Native has always been an integral part of my identity. Even though I was raised far from my tribe, far from any tribe, I heard the drumbeat of our traditions in my heart. My name is Leah Kallen Myers. I am the last member of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in my family line.” (Credit: Blane Burroughs)

When I started the essays that would eventually become Thinning Blood, I was writing them for myself. I wanted to have a written history of my family and my journey. I hoped that by making these memories tangible, they would be harder to forget.

Many of the essays of the book took their first steps in my MFA workshop classes at the University of New Orleans. I was able to see how people reacted to the stories and the reality of being part of a culture that was fading away. Somewhere along the way I realized that few of my peers were aware of the reality that Indigenous people faced. Things that I thought were common knowledge were brand-new ideas to them. Seeing that sparked a desire to share more. I wanted to share Native history with as many people as I could. I wanted to share stories of my family and my tribe, planting them in the minds of others so they would live on longer.

When I had the cleaned-up manuscript ready, I began sending it to agents. I knew that as ready as I was to share my work with the world, I would need help doing so. I faced many rejections, ranging from kind “this is wonderful but not for me” responses to form letters. Luckily, as a writer who submitted to many literary magazines, rejection was standard.

I decided to send a query to a dream agent, Paul Lucas with Janklow and Nesbit. Everything I’d read about the types of stories he was interested in spoke to me, and he represents some authors whose books I have on my own shelves. The agency had a six-month max turnaround time for responding, and I decided to use that time to take a break from trying to market myself. I set a reminder on my phone for six months from the day of submission, thinking I would pick up on querying at that point.

We had begun negotiations on a book deal with W. W. Norton before that date came to pass.

It was a whirlwind of a time; every new step felt overwhelming and surreal. I was taking part in e-mail conversations and phone calls that were literally making my lifelong dreams come true, and it was happening with the kindest team I could have hoped to assemble. They helped me shape the book into one that I needed when I was younger. Since its release I have seen it grow and reach people that need it now, for the same reasons. I have had the honor of reading accounts of people reading my book and feeling less alone.