Tommy Orange was born in 1982 in Oakland, California. He belongs to the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma and grew up in an environment of religious and cultural tensions: his father, for whom Cheyenne is the mother tongue, was master of ceremonies in the Native American Church, while his white mother, a spiritual seeker, later converted to evangelical Christianity and denounced his father’s religious practices. Orange studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He now belongs to a new generation of indigenous writers from the United States and Canada whose poetry and prose break away from old stereotypes about the artistic identity of Native Americans. The authors of this generation, who include Natalie Diaz, Tommy Pico, Terese Marie Mailhot, and Elissa Washuta, incorporate elements of pop culture, hip hop, and science fiction into their works.
With his polyphonic debut novel »There There« (2018), Orange writes a modern epic of the Native Americans that also reflects the complexity and ambivalence of the milieu in which he grew up. The title refers to Gertrude Stein’s »Everybody‘s Autobiography« (1937), in which she describes her return to Oakland, which has long since ceased to be the rural place she knew it as a child: »There is no there there.« Orange begins his novel with reflections on the symbolism of the Indian head, which is often depicted on coins, flags, and as ornaments on pictures, but in fact recalls the violence inflicted against the natives, whose heads were impaled on stakes after a massacre in the 17th century. »There There« also follows the lives of twelve characters who are all struggling with their origins and their place in society and who eventually meet for a big pow wow (traditional meeting of North American Indians) in the Oakland Coliseum. Canadian writer and journalist Omar El Akkad praised the novel, saying: »›There There‹ is a miraculous achievement, a book that wields ferocious honesty and originality in service of telling a story that needs to be told. This is a novel about what it means to inhabit a land both yours and stolen from you, to simultaneously contend with the weight of belonging and unbelonging.«
»There There« was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize 2019 and nominated for the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction as well as the National Book Award 2018; it won the 2018 National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize as well as the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Tommy Orange was a 2014 MacDowell Fellow and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He currently lives in Angels Camp, California.