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Tommy Orange’s Debut Novel There, There

A glimpse at the urban Native experience unearthed for the masses.

In his debut novel, Orange invites readers to join 12 distinct characters as they share their experiences as contemporary urban Natives, each grappling with their identities and navigating generational trauma through the many ways it presents itself. 

In his Prologue, Orange speaks to the placement of Native peoples into cities as the final act of assimilation, but notes “…the city made us new, and we made it ours. We didn’t get lost amid the sprawl of tall buildings, the stream of anonymous masses, the ceaseless din of traffic. We found one another…”

Each of the 12 characters plays a pivotal role in illustrating how existence as a Native person in this day and age is still ripe with loss, grief, adaptation, self-discovery, and survival. 

Each of the 12 characters plays a pivotal role in illustrating how existence as a Native person in this day and age is still ripe with loss, grief, adaptation, self-discovery, and survival.

The culmination of their experiences brings them all together to the Big Oakland Pow Wow. The grand entry and exit.

Orange himself is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and was born and raised in Oakland, California 

As the story unfolds, Orange’s words do not skimp on emotion, bringing readers into the room with, or perhaps more accurately, into the spirit of each character. And you have to go there to understand the sinews of their journey and how very intertwined they are.

Jacquie Red Feather, a substance abuse counselor, navigates the struggle of having become sober only recently, reconnecting with the father of a child she gave up for adoption and re-examining her experiences at Alcatraz as a child.

Edwin Black struggles with his bi-racial white and Native ethnicity, combing the internet to find his Native father and having acquired a Master’s Degree in Native American literature in attempts at further understanding his identity.

And although jumping between the multitude of characters may become dizzying, if readers afford each story enough care, they will find the connective web drawn between each voice. Are these 12 different individuals with separate experiences, or the collective experience of contemporary Native peoples as a whole?

And although jumping between the multitude of characters may become dizzying, if readers afford each story enough care, they will find the connective web drawn between each voice. Are these 12 different individuals with separate experiences, or the collective experience of contemporary Native peoples as a whole?

Orvil Red Feather, the grandson of Jacquie Red Feather in the secrecy of his room, adorns himself in regalia that does not fit, turning to YouTube to teach himself how to dance in preparation for the Big Oakland Pow Wow. 

While Calvin Johnson, struggling to get by, finds himself owing drug money, and whose collaboration with several other characters in devising a plan for his shortcomings will ultimately paint the Big Oakland Pow Wow in a different hue indefinitely. 

There There is fictional to individuals having encountered inaccurately depicted Native characters in Hollywood. 

And perhaps these vivid illustrations of urban Natives garner remorse from the newly acquainted, but ultimately what Orange has successfully done is further prove the fluid ways in which first peoples have and will always adapt despite the harrowing journey to here and now.

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