Tommy Orange Signs on for 2021 Festival of Books in Deadwood

National Bestseller to Discuss Acclaimed Debut 'There, There'

Tommy Orange, whose searing debut novel made him one of the most-discussed authors of the past two years, is coming to the 2021 South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood.

Orange's national bestseller There There, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, brings to the literary landscape an under-explored perspective: the experiences of tribal people in urban areas.

"Because South Dakota has a large and vibrant indigenous population, the Festival often features tribal authors, such as Louise Erdrich, whose books are primarily set on or connected to reservations and rural areas throughout the Great Plains," said Jennifer Widman, director of the South Dakota Festival of Books. "But we haven't featured tribal authors whose narratives are almost exclusively set in big cities – mostly because Orange is a pioneer of sorts in that genre."

Orange's polyphonic novel, set in Oakland, follows 12 characters who each have personal reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow and are united after a brutal act of violence. Laced with interpersonal drama and intense action sequences, There There references the all-too-familiar modern-day American tragedy (active shooters, automatic weapons) while highlighting the historical influences of a Native American culture that, through forced assimilation, has been crippled by depression, suicide, and poverty.

Said a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, "Kaleidoscopic... In this vivid and moving book, Orange articulates the challenges and complexities not only of Native Americans, but also of America itself."

Orange Lauded by Louise Erdrich, Other Bestselling Novelists

Orange's book was published after he finished the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

"I had just found out I was going to be a father. I was driving down to LA to go see a show. And on the drive, the idea just popped right into my head. I'd been working in the urban Indian community in Oakland for many years, and I knew I wanted to write a novel," he told Wisconsin Public Radio.

"At that moment, the idea to have a story about urban Indians where all their lives converge at a shooting at a powwow at the Oakland Coliseum. That single sort of container for the novel is what I thought of in that single moment."

Orange settled on the idea after noticing that there were few books written about tribal people in urban areas; the resulting novel explores societal ills that plague the Midwestern reservations about which Erdrich has written vividly. She noticed.

"Welcome to a brilliant and generous artist who has already enlarged the landscape of American Fiction. There There is a comic vision haunted by profound sadness. Tommy Orange is a new writer with an old heart," she says on the sales page for There There at in Minneapolis, her privately-owned bookstore.

A dynamic speaker, Orange will discuss craft, the writing process, and Native American history and culture as part of the Fiction track at the 2021 South Dakota Festival of Books.

About Tommy Orange

Orange is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow and 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow and a recent graduate from 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. He now lives in Angels Camp, CA, with his wife and son.

Orange's There There won the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and the American Book Award. It was also shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. It appeared on countless "Best Books of the Year" lists, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Time, O: The Oprah Magazine, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, and Buzzfeed.

Learn More

Visit for more information, and subscribe to our e-newsletter for frequent updates about Festival authors and events.