Tommy Orange

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Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange (born January 19, 1982) is an American novelist and a writer from Oakland, California. His first book There There was one of the finalists for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize.


  • Everything I did in the book that’s related to modern technology and contemporary behavior had to do with revisiting the idea of the historical monolithic Native American that everyone thinks of, and that ... the only real way to be a real Native American is to be historical or have a headdress or look this one way. It’s deeply damaging to a people to not have a dynamic range of ways to be that are still acceptable as Native. One of the common experiences of being a Native is to be questioned, like: Are you enough? So I wanted it to feel very contemporary and now.
  • The initial impulse was just liking it in other books. … Also, coming from a community that felt voiceless in the larger scheme of things—as far as movies and literature, as far as representation goes—it felt like the right decision to have a whole bunch of voices come out, as opposed to one or two.
    • On choosing to have multiple narrators in his debut novel in “Meet Tommy Orange” in Diablo Magazine (July 2018)
  • I wanted to write characters that felt true and real, and there’s a lot of harrowing detail about the lives of Native people. You can just look at the health statistics and they’re pretty staggering. I wanted the characters to be working-class, because so often the characters in novels that I’ve read are white and upper-middle-class with white, upper-middle-class problems…
  • In Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography, she talks about how someone was asking her what it’s like to come back to her childhood home in Oakland, where I also come from, and she says, “There is no there there.” She was talking about how it had been developed over and was unrecognisable. I was using that as a parallel to Native experience and the “there there” of the land before it was colonised, developed over and bordered.

There There (2018)[edit]

  • We know the sound of the freeway better than we do rivers, the howl of distant trains better than wolf howls. We know the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than we do the smell of cedar or sage or even frybread. We ride buses, trains, and cars across, over, and under concrete plains. Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere.
  • Some of us got this feeling stuck inside, all the time, like we’ve done something wrong. Like we ourselves are something wrong … We drink alcohol because it helps us feel like we can be ourselves and not be afraid. But we punish ourselves with it.
  • Our heads are on flags, jerseys, and coins. Our heads were on the penny first, of course, the Indian cent, and then on the buffalo nickel, both before we could even vote as a people — which, like the truth of what happened in history all over the world, and like all that spilled blood from slaughter, are now out of circulation.
  • You were white, you were brown, you were red, you were dust. You were both and neither. When you took baths, you’d stare at your brown arms against your white legs in the water and wonder what they were doing together in the same body.

External links[edit]

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