2020 Shortlist

There There



Tommy Orange’s wondrous and shattering novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all travelling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realise. Among them is 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 honour his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil, coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American – grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism. Hailed as an instant classic, There There is at once poignant and unflinching, utterly contemporary and truly unforgettable.

Comments from the Judging Panel

Each character in Tommy Orange’s debut novel carries a different hope to the Big Oakland Powwow. Some are searching for family, some seek connection through art. Some are contending with addiction, others with memory. One has a gun. Questions of identity flame throughout, and the devastating history of genocide against Native American people rubs up against the everyday lives of this cast of contemporary ‘Urban Indians’ with astonishing effectiveness. There There is an urgent, intimate novel that explores the complexities of heritage and belonging in nuanced and original ways, leaving us with more than a flicker of faith in human nature.



Tommy Orange is a graduate of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, he was born and raised in Oakland, California. There There is his first novel.

Tommy Orange is a graduate of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, he was born and raised in Oakland, California. There There is his first novel.

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This novel is both original and complex and explores the relationship between contemporary and past times. At times bleak, it has elements of purely beautiful writing. It’s a thoughtful, elegiac and powerful novel.

Limerick City and Council Libraries, Ireland

A beautifully written novel with the stories of multiple characters. It is very interesting to learn about native Americans.

Veria Central Public Library, Greece

A stunning debut novel that explores what it means to be an urban indigenous American, told through the vivid experiences and perspectives of twelve characters as they converge on the San Francisco Bay area for an event called the Big Oakland Powow. Each character has an equally compelling and desperate story to tell, and Orange brilliantly and intricately braids them together even as he moves the narrative relentlessly to its grim and inevitable conclusion. Toronto Public Library, Canada

A uniquely courageous, rare and bold glimpse of an urban Indian community that speaks to the triumph of stories and of the unlikely hero. Boston Public Library, USA

Orange’s brilliant novel centers around twelve characters attending the Big Oakland Powwow in Oakland, California. As their individual stories unfold, the complicated and often harrowing history of the Native Americans also comes to fore, in Orange’s dynamic, unforgettable and at times devastating debut. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, USA

There There comes from a viewpoint we don’t often see represented in fiction: that of the urban Indian.  Author Tommy Orange takes us inside the minds of a set of characters that in some ways could not be more different, but who are all trying to figure out how to balance connection to their cultural heritage with the demands of modern life. New Hampshire State Library, USA

Orange’s characters are remarkably depicted in this novel about contemporary Native American issues. They are Urban Indians facing obstacles of which many Americans are unaware – fetal alcohol syndrome, substance abuse and the notion that not all Native Americans fall under the usual monolithic stereotypes. Denver Public Library, USA 

In twelve distinct voices, Orange shows readers how it feels and what it means to be urban Native American in contemporary America. No reader will walk away unmoved by Orange’s breezy yet serious prologue that dissects 500 years of genocide and dislocation. Kansas City Public Library, USA

The novel successfully handles the gritty and complex history of Native Americans.  The challenges of Native Americans and America itself, are articulated as we follow twelve urban characters  through their experiences and perspectives as they converge on a powwow in Oakland, California. Milwaukee Public Library, USA

Tommy Orange breaks through the stereotypes of Native Americans in fiction and introduces us to their world on their terms. The author’s voice is angry and bleak, and the story is unforgettable.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, USA

In his debut novel, Orange introduces us to multiple voices from a community that has been silenced and ignored , the urban native American.

Multnomah County Library, USA

When Tommy Orange set out to write a novel about Native Americans who lived in Oakland, California, he attacked one of the central stereotypes we have about Indians: that they are somehow tucked away in rural areas or reservations.  That isn’t the first stereotype Orange bursts open in this brilliant, funny, tense book. “I feel bad sometimes even saying I’m Native. Mostly I just feel I’m from Oakland”. As we witness the range of urban Indians at the center of this book intersect and move ominously toward a great powwow to be held in Oakland, we see how thoroughly Orange wants us to reject nostalgia for a “lost” Indianness, and how masterfully he uses language ways to capture the anger, frustration, confusion, ambivalence of modern Native identity.

Richmond Public Library, USA

Orange’s dark, brilliant debut novel captures the lives of Indians in Oakland, California through interconnected short stories, revealing their inner lives, struggles and hopes. Great delve into culture and the essence of humanity.

The Seattle Public Library, USA




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