There There
by Tommy Orange



Tommy Orange's "groundbreaking, extraordinary" ( The New York Times ) There There is the "brilliant, propulsive" ( People Magazine ) story of twelve unforgettable characters, Urban Indians living in Oakland, California, who converge and collide on one fateful day.  Read more...

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More About There There by Tommy Orange


Tommy Orange's "groundbreaking, extraordinary" (The New York Times) There There is the "brilliant, propulsive" (People Magazine) story of twelve unforgettable characters, Urban Indians living in Oakland, California, who converge and collide on one fateful day. It's "the year's most galvanizing debut novel" (Entertainment Weekly).

As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow--some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent--momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle's death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle's memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will to perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss.

There There is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. It's "masterful . . . white-hot . . . devastating" (The Washington Post) at the same time as it is fierce, funny, suspenseful, thoroughly modern, and impossible to put down. Here is a voice we have never heard--a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force. Tommy Orange has written a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. This is the book that everyone is talking about right now, and it's destined to be a classic.

  • ISBN-13: 9780525520375
  • ISBN-10: 0525520376
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publish Date: June 2018
  • Page Count: 304
  • Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary
Books > Fiction > Native American & Aboriginal
Books > Fiction > Political

BookPage Reviews

Native in the city

During one of several research forays for his brilliant first novel depicting contemporary experiences of urban Native Americans, Tommy Orange discovered Gertrude Stein’s famously misunderstood quote about Oakland, California: “There is no there there.”

Why was that important?

“She was talking about how the place where she had grown up—Oakland—had changed so much that it was no longer recognizable,” says Orange during a call to his home in Angels Camp, California, not far from Yosemite Valley. Orange, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, was born and raised in Oakland. “I didn’t immediately know this was going to be the title. But there was so much resonance for Native people—what this country is now compared to what it was for our ancestors. The parallels just jumped out at me.”

Set in Oakland, There There follows the intersecting lives of 12 contemporary Native Americans as they prepare for the Big Oakland Powwow. Some, like young Orvil Red Feather, want to connect with Native traditions. He discovers Indian dance regalia hidden away in the closet of his aunt, Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, a mail carrier who as a child was part of the Native occupation of Alcatraz Island, but who now “wants nothing to do with anything Indian.” Orvil has taught himself to dance by watching videos on YouTube.

Octavio Gomez, an alienated young Native American, sees the powwow as an opportunity to rob businesses to pay off drug debts. He is close with his uncle Sixto, who at one point tells him, “We got bad blood in us. . . . Some of these wounds get passed down.”

And then there is Dene Oxendene, the character who is perhaps closest in experience to Orange himself. A graffiti artist of mixed heritage, Dene tremulously applies for—and receives—a grant to collect the oral histories of Oakland’s Native people. “I actually got a cultural arts grant from the city of Oakland to do a storytelling project that never existed but for the fictional version in this novel,” Orange admits, laughing.

Orange, who is now 36 and a recent graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts’ MFA program, did not grow up reading fiction or wanting to be a writer. He played indoor roller hockey until the sport died out, and he has a degree in sound engineering. “There weren’t many job prospects,” he says. “People with stars in their eyes who wanted to end up in big studios had to be willing to fetch coffee and clean toilets, so we were told.”

So Orange got a job at a used bookstore. “At the time, I was reading to find meaning,” he says. “I was raised religiously, Christian evangelical. My dad was into the Native American Church, which is the peyote church. Both of my parents were intensely into God. But none of that was for me. I was reading to figure out what it all did mean to me. I found fiction first through Borges and Kafka. I was actually eating a doughnut on a break, reading A Confederacy of Dunces, when I realized what a novel could do. In that singular moment, I became obsessed. Once I knew what a novel could do, I wanted to do it.”

Orange first imagined There There around the time he and his wife, a psychotherapist whom he met when they were both working at Oakland’s Native American Health Center, conceived their now-7-year-old son.

“I was driving down to LA with my wife, and it just popped into my head all at once,” Orange says. “I knew I wanted to write a polyphonic novel and have all the characters converge at a shooting at an Oakland powwow. Growing up in Oakland, [I saw] that there were no Native-people-living-in-the-city-type novels. They were all reservation-based. That made me feel isolated. If I was reading about Native experience, it had nothing to do with my experience. So my idea was to have a mix of the contemporary with the traditional, an urban feel, with echoes of violence and the continuation of violence in Native communities.”

“I wanted to find a way to portray the way Natives experience history.”

One of the animating questions for all the novel’s characters is what being Native American means today. Orvil, for example, alienated from his heritage, anxiously Googles, “What does it mean to be a real Indian?”

“For a long time,” Orange says, “a real Indian meant someone who does not exist anymore. We’re going through a period right now as a people, wondering—because there are 575 recognized tribes, each with its own language and way of thinking—are we doing harm against Indian identity by talking about us as one people? But at the same time, we’re probably more alike than we are different.”

Which is why the idea of powwows is so symbolic for Orange. He didn’t grow up going to powwows. But later in life, he was on the Oakland powwow committee. “The reason it works so well for Native people living in the city is that it is intertribal. All these tribes come together to do one thing together. It’s a marketplace, but it’s also where we see each other as Native people. It’s an intensely visible, communal space, with people coming together, dancing and singing the old ways.”

Orange says it was very important for There There, a novel with many characters and voices, to be a readable book. “It’s an elusive thing,” he says. “Native people, I think, have a skeptical view of history, the way it’s taught and the way it’s understood by the average American. There’s a certain burden to inform correctly. I wanted to find a way to portray the way Natives experience history. And I wanted to find a way to do it in a compelling and, again, readable way.”

In There There, Orange has succeeded in doing just that. It’s a compelling read, a stunning tour de force and a display of Orange’s impressive virtuosity.


This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Author photo by Elena Seibert.

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