Tommy Orange

Author Tommy Orange will come to campus on Feb. 4 to discuss his Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel, "There There."

Orange, who hails from Oakland, California, identifies as an urban Native American.

"There There" is the first popular representation of urban Native American life and that was Orange's goal because he didn't see it represented in popular culture, said Jessica Maucione, associate professor of English, women's and gender studies, the powers chair of the humanities and interim dean of Native studies.

“[The Visiting Writers Series looks] to have many different levels of diversity, of style, author background, content, et cetera," said Meagan Ciesla, English professor, director of writing concentration and the coordinator of the Visiting Writers Series.

The theme of urban Native Americans in the novel is something both Ciesla and Maucione find pressing, especially in the Gonzaga community.

The event will be organized as a fireside chat, led by senior Ann Caindec, who studies English, psychology and Native American studies at GU. Like Orange, Caindec hails from the Bay Area and identifies as an urban Indian.

“The more I learned about Tommy Orange, the more I really connected to him and this whole idea of being an urban Indian was something I never really had contact with before,” Caindec said. 

Through "There There," Orange provided Caindec with validation of her life experiences and a way to put that into words, Caindec said. 

“Gonzaga resides on the ancestral homelands of the Spokane Tribe, and when we fail to really come to terms with what that means and what responsibilities lie in that, I think we’re not living up to our mission at all," Maucione said. 

For Maucione, Ciesla and Caindec, Orange coming to campus represents GU taking an active role in the acknowledgement that this university exists Native ground.

“Bringing Native voices to campus, especially contemporary Native voices is really a step in the right direction of Gonzaga acknowledging the Native presence that’s not just here, but prevalent in the country,” Caindec said.

Exposing oneself to contemporary Native voices is something Caindec said she believes is important. 

"[Native peoples] are not a people of the past, not just a character or a caricature or a sports mascot — ‘here’s this guy, he grew up in the Bay Area, he’s Native and he’s written an amazing novel about his experiences being urban Indian,'" Caindec said. 

She said its important to move beyond the narrative that Native peoples are confined to reservations, or nostalgic images of the past, pre-Columbian world. Orange’s writing further pushes back against that narrative and creates representation for contemporary Native people that didn’t exist prior to "There There."

“We need to have this conversation and he’ll be a great catalyst,”  Maucione said.

After the fireside chat, there will be a 15-minute Q&A session with Orange, which will be followed by a book signing. Students can purchase "There There" for $5, and have it signed by Orange.

The event will take place in Hemmingson Ballroom at 7:30 p.m.

Ginger Monroe is a staff writer.

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