OSWEGO — Tommy Orange, author of this year’s Oswego Reading Initiative selection for SUNY Oswego, the novel “There There,” will connect with the campus and community for a virtual event at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 30.
The New York Times bestseller follows 12 characters from Native communities all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Among them are Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind; Dene Oxendene, pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and working at the powwow to honor his memory; and 14-year-old Orvil, coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time.
Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of urban Native Americans grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism.
“There There” was one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year and won the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and the Pen/Hemingway Award. It also was longlisted for the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
“For ORI, we always look to connect with campus themes if at all possible,” said Rameen Mohammadi, associate provost for undergraduate and special programs as well as ORI committee chair. With 2020-21 adopted as the Year of Native Nations the college’s Institute for Global Engagement, Orange’s book contributes to that theme.
“Tommy’s talk will also be a featured presentation in the ALANA conference which is another critically important campus event this fall,” Mohammadi noted of the annual African, Latino, Asian and Native American Student Leadership Conference, which will run Sept. 23 to 30.
“The book’s focus on diversity and social justice really cuts across the experience of many marginalized people; a topic of enormous concern to our campus at this time,” Mohmmadi said. “Our hope and desire is to generate more conversation on these issues.”
Mohammadi said it supports a need for “more self-reflection and concern about the other and if the talk instigates that in our students, in our faculty, and our community at large, I think we have then hit the mark using the book and having Tommy speak here.”
Mohammadi praised Orange’s storytelling ability in weaving such a compelling tale.
“The stories of all the lives presented in the book are so vivid, so beautifully brought together; sometimes it felt like reading poetry,” Mohammadi said. “Tommy does an amazing job of bringing the Native American worldview to the reader.”
Orange graduated from the master of fine arts program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and was a 2014 MacDowell Fellow and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow.
He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, and was born and raised in Oakland, Calif.
For more information on the virtual presentation, the book or related activities, visit oswego.edu/oswego-reading-initiative.