Tommy Orange, the author of the novel There There spoke at Inly last Thursday evening.
There There, longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for the Carnegie Medal is the debut novel by Orange, a member of the Cheyenne tribe. The novel took him six years to write, but it has made the author a new literary star. “Yes, Tommy Orange’s New Novel Is Really That Good” reads the title of the New York Times review of There There. Another New York Times article about Orange’s describes There Thereas a “new kind of American epic.” Maureen Corrigan, reviewing the novel for Fresh Air, said:
There There is distinguished not only by Orange’s crackling style, but by its unusual subject. This is a novel about urban Indians, about native peoples who know, as he says, “the sound of the freeway better than [they] do rivers … the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than [they] do the smell of cedar or sage…”
The Inly program was a conversation between Tommy and Nina McLaughlin, a columnist for the Boston Globe whose first book, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter was published in 2015. Nina wrote the Globe’s review of There There which is linked here:
The conversation was rich and meaningful, mostly because Tommy and Nina were natural and genuine. It truly felt like a conversation.
Nina began by asking Tommy about the explosive end to his novel. “I knew the end before I knew the beginning,” he told her. “I knew the characters’ lives would converge at a powwow.”
Talking about his polyphonic novel, Tommy described his writing process as “auditioning voices to see who felt convincing.” Over the six years it took him to write There There, Tommy estimates that he “tried 40 or 50 characters.”
Especially lovely was the way Tommy talked about novels, which he said “can do anything.” He was moved by A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and the work of Sylvia Plath. He described their work as having “sadness with levity.” Their writing, he said, “transcended their own sadness.” Discussing his love of polyphonic novels, he mentioned, among others, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.
Nina also asked Tommy to talk about the many mirrors and reflections in There There.“Growing up,” he responded, “Native people don’t see themselves very often. We aren’t in sports or movies or television. The mirror lets you see how you’re native.”
I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed many happy days at Inly, but this was one of the best. Tommy Orange radiates kindness and thoughtfulness from the second you meet him. If you haven’t read There There yet, add it to your “to read” pile.
This post was written by Inly Librarian, Shelley Sommer and published on her blog, Sommer Reading.