Novelist questions what it means to be an American Indian

click to enlarge <a href=" - PHOTO ELENA SEIBERT
Photo Elena Seibert
In his breakout novel “There There,” author Tommy Orange takes an unblinking look at the pride, pain and confusion that are undercurrents of identity for many modern day American Indians.

The book tells the stories of 12 characters, ranging in age from teens to elders, whose lives converge one fateful day at a powwow in Oakland, Calif.

Unlike many other books about American Indians, “There There” does not take place in the romantic past or on a remote reservation. Instead, it is firmly rooted in the present day, in a metro city where mixed race Indian youth learn about their culture through YouTube videos and generational trauma ripples through families coping with substance abuse and violence. 

The book was named among the 2018 National Book Critics’ Circle Awards and to the New York Times Favorite Books of 2018. It’s also University of Idaho’s Common Read and Orange will speak about his work at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5 in the International Ballroom of the Bruce M. Pitman Center on campus.

Orange is a recent graduate from the Master of Fine Arts program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and was born and raised in Oakland. He lives in Angels Camp, Calif., and was unavailable for an interview before the event because he was traveling, according to his publisher. 

The Common Read committee, composed of students, faculty and community members, chose “There There” because they felt empowered by the novel and Orange’s journey to become an important voice and part of the vanguard of the “Native Renaissance,” according to a news release.

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