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Tommy Orange Shares The Urban Native American Experience In “There There” During Cleveland Book Week

Novelist Tommy Orange, cast in the warm glow of the lights at St. John Episcopal Church, brought his Anisfield-Wolf award-winning debut, “There There” to Northeast Ohio for Cleveland Book Week.

Lake Erie Native American Council (LENAC) dancers – An Evening with Tommy Orange: Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards 2019 winner for Fiction for Cleveland Book Week 2019 – Photo © Bob Perkoski

The evening’s reading melded some new writing from Orange about fathers and sons playing basketball with dancers and drummers from the Lake Erie Native American Council, who performed traditional powwow dances and a drum circle. Their music and movement gave attendees a taste of the book, which follows twelve urban Native characters in advance of a fictious Oakland Coliseum powwow. More than 80 percent of indigenous Americans live outside reservations.

“I very much wanted to write about the place I grew up,” Orange told the packed crowd. “I love Oakland. There’s ten million New York novels and there’s very few Oakland-specific novels and I definitely wanted to contribute in that way.”

Orange was born in Oakland in 1982 to a white mother and Native father and is an enrolled member the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. Growing up, he struggled with identity and embedded pieces of that discernment into each of the characters in “There There.”

“It was really important to me that the Native communities, especially the Oakland one, that people wouldn’t think that what I wrote was untrue to their experience,” Orange said. “Markedly, there’s so much joy [from Native communities] in feeling like they’re in a book, in a way that feels like ‘now,’ like it hasn’t been represented enough.”

Watch the full event below and make plans to join us next year for Cleveland Book Week 2020.

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