Tommy Orange’s bestselling novel, “There There,” follows 12 characters from Native communities—all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize—as they each travel to the Big Oakland Powwow. With a chorus of voices, it 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. 

Published in 2018, the novel has appeared on best book of the year lists in The New York Times, Washington Post, Time, and O, The Oprah Magazine,among many others. And now, it has been selected as the Book in Common for the 2020–21 academic year, to be read and discussed by the students, faculty and staff of California State University, Chico and Butte College, as well as the broader community.

“The selection of ‘There There’ will build on the antiracist discussions created by the 2020–21 Book in Common selection ‘How to Be an Antiracist’ by Ibram X. Kendi,” said CSU, Chico President Gayle Hutchinson. “Focusing on the often-overlooked struggles and experiences of Native communities will, I believe, be a powerful experience for many on our campus and within our community.”

Orange is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, and was born and raised in Oakland. He has said inspiration for “There There” came during his time working in a digital storytelling booth at the Native American Health Center in Oakland and at a nonprofit in Berkeley. His role was to staple and make copies of grants, burning sage and sending them off with a prayer. During this time, he worked on a storytelling project that led him to realize that the stories of urban Natives needed to be heard, especially by other urban Natives.

“The historical context of Native American peoples is complex, and ‘There There’ gives a platform to not only explore the unique experiences of urban Native Americans but also provides many interdisciplinary opportunities around Native American peoples for our campus and larger community,” said Rachel McBride-Praetorius, director of Tribal Relations at CSU, Chico.

Embracing a Book in Common as a shared community read has been proud University tradition since 2000. “There There” will be only the third novel selected in the last two decades, and committee members are excited for the opportunity to celebrate the power of imagination and storytelling as well as the history and issues that Orange’s novel work explores.

The Book in Common is a shared community read designed to promote discussion and understanding of important issues. It is chosen each year by a group of CSU, Chico and Butte College faculty and staff, as well as members of the local community. As in past years, Butte College, CSU, Chico, the City of Chico and Butte County will sponsor panel discussions, lectures and other public events to celebrate and promote the Book in Common.

Learn more about the Book in Common at www.csuchico.edu/bic.