Tommy Orange spoke to a standing room only crowd at a reading in Chicago Monday evening. Native News Online photos by Levi Rickert
Published September 29, 2018
CHICAGO — Fresh off his book’s nomination for a National Book Award for Fiction Longlist for his debut novel, “There There,” Tommy Orange walked through the Unabridged Book Store in Chicago last Monday evening with a bit of a swagger.
Tommy Orange answering questions.
Wearing a black Addias baseball cap, casual blue shirt and blue jeans, Orange spoke directly into the microphone provided to him and began read a portion of the first chapter of Part III of the book he had never read before a live audience before: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield. The chapter is about one of many characters in “There There,” a veteran of the 1969 Occupation of Alcatraz and now a postal worker.
As a Chicago Transit Authority bus passed by through the window behind him, Orange read a portion of the chapter and then opened up the reading program to questions and answers. He covered much ground for the next 45 minutes about the genesis of the “There There” to a standing-room-only crowd.
“There There” presents urban American Indians stories from 12 narratives or voices of characters that, to urban Native people, seem very real. Orange told his audience so many of the characters in the book are actually parts of himself.
“There There” has received wide acclaim that transcended far beyond the American Indian community. After its release, the book spent 10 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Five Things You Should Know about “There There”
It took Orange six years to write the manuscript for “There There.” Soon after the 2016 presidential eleciton, he received a call from literary agent Nicole Aragi, who was so disturbed by Donald Trump winning the presidency and subsequently could not sleep read the manuscript, to tell him she would get the book published. During the troubling time of Trump’s election, she told Orange, his book gave her hope in the midst of a dark time.
Hearing the Music
Orange says 100 percent of the book was written while listening to music. In addition to writing, Orange composes music. However, he says how he approaches writing is different than how he composes (writes) music.
On Monday, he ended his reading with this:
“She’s listening to Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” It’s her least-favorite Otis Redding song because it land on Smokey Robinson’s “The Tracks of My Tears.” Those two songs must have been playings as he wrote the Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield chapter he read on Monday evening.
The Last Shall be the First
Orange stated that he knew the ending of the book before he wrote the rest of the book. He said he and his wife were on the way to Los Angeles for a concert, when the ending of the book came to him. He then wrote the book to get to that ending that (hint) has left many readers begging for more.
When asked who his target audience was when he wrote the book, Orange said he wrote for urban Indians. “The country did not seem to care for the urban Native population for a long time,” Orange commented. “I thought it would be good to give a voice those who never seemed to have voice.”
“People who like Indians tend to love the pretty things about them,” Orange continued.
Orange said he was already been working on what would be a sequel to “There There” when told many readers were left with wanting to know what happened to some of the characters at the end of the book.
“I spent time this afternoon, before I came here tonight, working on it,” Orange said.
He was working on a deadline of September 28.
Order your copy of There There here.
Tommy Orange just prior to being introduced at the reading.