There There

There There

There There Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Tommy Orange's There There. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Tommy Orange

Born and raised in Oakland, California, Tommy Orange worked at the Native American Health Center there for years. Through a storytelling project he undertook through the center, he began to realize how invisible Native American stories are—especially stories about urban Natives. After falling in love with reading and writing while working at a used bookstore outside of Oakland, Orange graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts MFA program. His debut novel There There was the subject of a major bidding war, and debuted to huge acclaim in 2018, garnering praise and awards including the PEN/Hemingway Award, the National Books Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, and the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Orange lives in Angels Camp, California, with his wife and son, and teaches at the IAIA MFA. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.
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Historical Context of There There

There There is set in contemporary Oakland, and confronts some of the ethical and ideological issues facing present-day America. Daniel Gonzales’s whirring drone, present in the background of several crucial moments in the novel, as well as Orvil, Loother, and Lony’s reliance on their phones and on the internet for access to social media and websites about Native history and culture show the ways in which technology brings people together. However, Edwin Black’s crippling internet addiction shows how forces meant to connect people can actually be painfully isolating. The novel also makes reference to the real-life occupation of Alcatraz Island. From November 20, 1969, to June 11, 1971, the Native American group Indians of All Tribes (IOAT) led a protest in the form of an occupation, which helped establish a precedent for Indian Activism and push back on federal Indian Termination Policies, which were designed to erase Native culture by assimilating Native Americans into white society.

Other Books Related to There There

Tommy Orange himself has cited the work of Native poet Layli Long Soldier (author of Whereas) and his IAIA classmate Terese Mailhot (Heart Berries) as contemporary inspirations, but his work has drawn comparisons to the writing of celebrated novelist Louise Erdrich (Love Medicine, The Round House) and controversial but canonical Spokane writer Sherman Alexie (The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian). The interconnected segments of There There, and the ways in which they build to a larger climax, are reminiscent of great novels-in-stories such as Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. The title of There There comes from a comment from the Modernist writer Gertrude Stein, who upon returning to her childhood home of Oakland after many years and finding it much changes, wrote: "There is no there there." Tommy Orange has commented that the quote spoke to him in terms of "the idea of having a place that is yours—land that you have a relationship to—then being removed and what that does to you, as a Native experience."
Key Facts about There There
  • Full Title: There There
  • When Written: 2010-2016
  • Where Written: Oakland, California
  • When Published: 2018
  • Literary Period: Contemporary, Postmodern
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Setting: Oakland, CA
  • Climax: Tony Loneman, Octavio Gomez, Calvin Johnson, and two others rob the Big Oakland Powwow—but when the job goes wrong, a shootout ensues, claiming the lives of several of the novel’s Native characters who have gathered at the powwow to connect and celebrate their heritage.
  • Point of View: First, second, and third person

Extra Credit for There There

Long Haul. Tommy Orange got the idea for the book that would become There There in 2010. He spent the next six years developing his characters and finding ways to make their paths converge around the fictional Big Oakland Powwow.