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History, addiction and community in Tommy Orange’s latest novel


When Tommy Orange decided to write a sequel to his award-winning novel, There therehe started jumping back in time. Wandering stars It begins in the 19th century, after Godstar, the ancestor of many of the characters in the film there there, During his escape from the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 and his escape from imprisonment in a concentration camp in Florida. We follow Star’s journey and that of his son, then finally meet his granddaughter, Opal Viola Bear Shield, before jumping forward (or back) to 2018 and reuniting with the Bear Shield/Red Feather family we met in There there.

History, addiction and community in Tommy Orange’s latest novel
Tommy Orange was photographed at Angels Camp, California.

The genealogical context and the abrupt shift from one date to the present day underscore the immediacy of the family’s long struggle with both systemic oppression and addiction. Readers have been looking forward to seeing how Orange would follow up on the huge success of his debut, and his latest effort has not disappointed.

Top country news He caught up with Orange as his workday was winding down in California to talk about historical fiction, how writing about Oakland affected his relationship with the city, and the work still necessary to destigmatize addiction through literature. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

HCN: Wandering stars Continue story there there, But first you have to jump back several generations. Why did you feel it was important to write in this context?

to: It wasn’t planned that way. I started this book a few months ago There there It came out, and initially it was a direct sequel. I was writing the book for about a year, and then I was invited to Sweden to translate it There there. While I was there, I was invited to a museum where they were basically saying, “We have some of your people’s stuff. Do you want to see it?” There’s this weird round of like, “We know we’re not supposed to have it. We’re trying to figure it out.” I think the museum world is going through a calculation. While I was there, I saw a newspaper clipping, and it had the South Cheyenne in Florida in 1875. I never knew we were in Florida for any reason, so I fell down this rabbit hole. I was anti-historical fiction—for myself, not for others—because Indigenous people were often depicted only historically. in there there, I was very into contemporary things, and basically planned to do the same Wandering stars. But while doing research for this book, I realized that Marion Prison Castle, where half the prisoners were from Southern Cheyenne, was the blueprint for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. I found a list of prisoners, one was Starr and the other was Bear Shield. So I knew right away that I was going to tie this together somehow. It took a long time to achieve this, and I feel like it worked.

HCN: It was a good reminder of how close that date was. A few generations ago isn’t really a very long time. How was writing your second book compared to writing your first?

to: Well, the first question, I wouldn’t say it came effortlessly, because it’s just hard to write. But she came from a much different place. success There there It had nothing to do with writing There there. It was an after-effect. So, in the writing space, I didn’t have anyone in the room with me. There was no audience. No one I knew really knew I wrote; I was doing nonprofit work, and some people in my inner circle knew about it. Writing the first half was that, then the second half was in MFA. So There there It came very much out of a passion for the lack of narrative around contemporary Indigenous people and our relationship to cities.

It was much different this time. in writing Wandering starsThere were a lot of external things that weren’t there There there. So, like I said, writing is really hard. Then you have all these pressures, like the sophomore effort being jinxed and the sequels never living up to the originals – there’s a lot of things working against me. So, it was a much harder book, but I feel like I learned a lot about the process. I sold my third book at the end of last year. It’s not tied to this universe, and I’m looking forward to not having to spend another six years writing it.

History, addiction and community in Tommy Orange’s latest novel

HCN: How has writing about Auckland, and being known for speaking out about the Indigenous experience in Auckland, influenced your relationship with the city?

to: Well, in some crazy ways. First, I think I had to leave Auckland to finish writing about it, which didn’t really happen of my own volition. My wife and I lost our jobs in 2014 due to a sudden change in tribal leadership, and we couldn’t afford Oakland. I had just started the MFA program, and we moved out into the country, into the mountains where I grew up. This is where I wrote the second half of There there. We were trying to go back for a long time but we couldn’t, even after the success of the book. Because Auckland is like that. And then I resold the TV rights a couple of years ago, which allowed us to go back. And I think a few months after I got back, I was invited by the mayor and given the key to the city, which was pretty crazy. Then I was recently accepted into the Chamber of Commerce. So, I feel like Oakland really embraces me. And the indigenous community in Oakland – I already had good relationships with a lot of organization leaders here and worked with them before, so this part wasn’t new.

HCN: My favorite section of this novel is near the end. “Selfishness is the thing you are most likely to become if you are abandoned. Being abandoned means that you don’t think anyone else is really there for you when it comes down to it.” This section sounded like a thesis. Can you look up this quote for me?

to: Yes, Lonnie is shown as a pure and innocent dark force in the novel. He tries to be at the center of the love that he believes should hold the family together by very extreme means. And the family kind of let him down. I really wanted to get a child’s perspective on the chaos that can happen around addiction and trauma because I think children’s voices have been lost. They hear “You don’t know what you’re talking about” from adults who act so selfishly and silence children, who have very valid feelings about reality and the things that happen to them. I wanted Lonnie to have that moment to express his point of view. The introduction begins within the children, and it is clear that boarding schools were a punishment for all Native people, by coercing, and sometimes forcing, Indian children to be there. The “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” campaign was targeting them. So, it was important for the entire novel to express this feeling.

HCN: Every step in and out of addiction in this book made perfect sense. None of it was inevitable, but it was completely understandable: the difficult balance of trying to change your behavior without losing the context of systemic failures that make these cycles so difficult to break.

to: And i appreciate that. I appreciate you seeing that because, you know, I’m trying to bring a level of humanity to addiction. It’s not as stigmatized as it used to be, but it’s not as fully humanized. It’s still kind of binary, like, you’re in recovery, then you’re sober, then you’re well. It is a kind of moral failure for everyone who is still stuck in it. But there are so many different characters around the black holes of addiction that you kind of get sucked into. And there are voices that need to tell stories about that too. If what I do can help people going through it, then it seems worth all the heartache that goes into writing.

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