“There There,” a novel by Native American author Tommy Orange set in contemporary Oakland, California is The Free Library of Philadelphia’s next pick for the One Book One Philadelphia program.
The story follows several storylines about inner-city Native Americans whose lives collide during a violent incident at a community pow wow.
“I’m trying to tell a story about native people living in a city, in the city of Oakland, and there’s something about pow wows that works to represent that community,” he said. “Pow wows are intertribal. There’s a lot of people coming, representing geographical locations and tribal affiliations and dance styles. It’s also traditional while also being contemporary, while also being a marketplace. There’s a lot of layers to it.”
Orange used to live in Oakland and worked for a Native American health center. It’s where he started writing the novel, his first. Orange has since moved to the foothills of the Sierras with his wife and child, to be closer to family, but said he is looking for a way to get back into the city.
“Oakland is too expensive,” said the bestselling author.
The book is broken up into short chapters, each focused on a particular character. They are written in both first- and third-person. When it was published in 2018, the book drew wide praise for its richly complex characters.
“Even though it’s easy to read, it’s a pretty complicated book,” said Free Library President, Siobhan Reardon. “What was so amazing about the book is how each character was so well developed. You’re really trying to understand how that chaos began.”
Now in its 17th year, the One Book One Philadelphia program will use “There There” as the foundation for a string of events, discussions, and workshops about themes brought up in the book, including Native Americans cultures and histories, acknowledgement of indigenous claims to land, inner city poverty, and gun violence.
“The book sheds necessary light on the contemporary lives of urban Native Americans,” said program director Brittanie Sterner, in an email. “Communities who are rarely visible in cities across the country, including Philly, due to historical indigenous erasure.”
The library is giving the public a few months to read the book before the programming begins early next year. Orange will be at the kickoff event on January 22.