by Annabelle Day
Idaho Public Radio
“How to be authentically authentic is something that native people have to think about,” Tommy Orange, the author of “There There” says. “It’s not true of other people. How to authentically form your identity or your culture in any art form is all very complicated.”
Orange was at the The University of Idaho in Moscow for the 2019 Common Read Community Discussion on November 5. “There There” was named among the 2018 National Book Critics’ Circle Awards and to the New York Times Favorite Books of 2018.
(Photo by Annabelle Day)
This novel follows twelve Native Americans of the Cheyenne tribe, living modern lives in Oakland, California. Orange’s story focused on the characters’ struggles to be true to who they are without living into stereotypes.
Orange was born and raised in Oakland, California. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Navajo tribes of Oklahoma and is currently an instructor in the MFA Program at the Institute of American-Indian Arts.
Orange wrote his book to reflect his own experiences while fighting against common generalizations and expectations of Native Americans. One of the main ways he did this was by showing a modern Cheyenne culture.
“I included a lot of technology … because every time I see native people depicted in popular culture, it’s historical, it’s monolithic and it’s feathered,” said Orange. “It’s singular and has no dimensionality to it.”
Orange wasn’t a reader or writer at a young age. However, through a series of events, he worked in a used bookstore, where he fell in love with fiction.
“I got into a lot of international fiction,” said Orange. “The idea of international literature and natives having the experience of being international within their own nation … that was sort of the basis for my writing.”
Many in the at the University of Idaho event praised the book and interacted in conversations among themselves about their favorite parts. The audience was engaged during Orange’s talk, applauding and cheering when given the opportunity.
The Common Read is designed to engage the university and Moscow community in a unified intellectual activity, Dean Panttaja, U of I’s director of General Education, said. First-year students read the book as part of their Integrated Seminar 101 course, and in English 101 and 102, all part of the university’s General Education program.
When asked why his book ended with a violent scene, Orange said he was inspired by the Dakota Access pipeline issue in 2016. He said that after watching Native American elders being shot with rubber bullets and Native American people being attacked by dogs and sprayed by cold water in the middle of the night, “it didn’t make any sense to have [the book] end in any other way than the way it did.”
An audience member asked if he had noticed any personal growths in his life since writing the book, to which Orange responded simply, “Nope.” The audience laughed and applauded at his honest answer.
Orange shared that he is currently working on an autobiography as well as a planned sequel to “There There,” news which excited the audience.
Posted November 8, 2019