On October 7, 2021, in our Indigenous Peoples’ Day Assembly, Tommy Orange, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel There There, joined us for an hour of conversation. He reflected upon his story, his writing process, and where he finds hope. I encourage you to ask your children about their takeaways from this assembly. The open question-and-answer exchange centered on his own origin story as an enrolled member of Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, the increased visibility of Native people in contemporary American culture, and how we can engage critically with information to challenge romanticized teachings of Native American history and learn about the history, diverse cultures, and impact of Indigenous people in America.
Orange spoke about how fiction soothed him during a period of loneliness: reading the work of indigenous authors introduced him to characters that shared his lived experiences, something he never found in the depiction of Indigenous Americans in popular culture. Writing fiction provided a different type of outlet, allowing him the freedom to explore the different ways to be an Indigenous person, especially in an urban landscape. Looking back on his relationship with his identity, Orange—who only began to enjoy reading after high school—said he wished he’d found fiction sooner; and he encouraged students to consider reading as a way to learn more about others and their perspectives.
Orange closed by sharing how he finds joy and hope in the imaginations of young people, something that has found itself in his next novel, both a sequel and prologue to There There. He shared that he and his family continue to find ways to center their cultural traditions: along with his wife and 10-year-old son, Orange is currently learning his family’s tribal language.