Everybody Reads 2020 Selection ‘There There’ Used as Teaching Tool
By S.C. Taulbee
Some ear-to-the-ground Portland Community College faculty have picked up on Tommy Orange’s lauded work There There and began to include it in their curricula.
There There tells the stories of twelve Native American people living in modern-day Oakland, CA, the author’s hometown. From the prologue to the work, Orange writes of the “violence and genocide that indigenous people have endured, and how it has been sanitized over the centuries.” The book becomes an analysis of how centuries of historical trauma play out in the lives of his characters, whose identity he describes being commonly perceived by others as “ambiguously non-white.”
Instructor of Composition and Literature at PCC, Nicholas Hengen Fox, Ph.D., said that he chose the work for his Fall 2018 English 104 class because “it foregrounds a lot of questions that are central in our local experience today (gentrification, racism, the experience of young people of color,) but also because it foregrounds the urban Native experience…”
Orange’s book has garnered much acclaim since its 2018 release. Among many other prizes and accolades, it was selected as a finalist in fiction for the Pulitzer Prize, and rose as high as number eight on The New York Times Bestseller List.
The Multnomah County Library has also taken notice of the work, selecting it for their 2020 Everybody Reads program, which encourages everyone in the community to read the same book. The library believes books have the power to build a stronger community. From their website: “Through a shared reading experience, we will discuss issues that matter, learn from each other and promote greater understanding.”
Students interested in elevating social equity in their own communities can do so in part by elevating their own understanding of others. There exists a wide array of experience in America; before real progress can be made from its presently fractured state, there must be widespread acknowledgement, recognition, and understanding of one another’s shared humanity. This can be catalysed, in part, through art, film, music, and literature. In writing characters who reflect his own lived experience, Orange offers the rest of us an opportunity to recognize an aspect of our culture from which we are yet to address, let alone heal.
For those who have read the novel and were left wanting more, Orange will be appearing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland on Thursday, March 5th, 2020.