Most Important Novel Set in Oakland

There There by Tommy Orange

Not many works of literature explore the experience of America’s Native people. Of the ones that do exist, most are set on reservations or in rural areas, far away from big cities. Local Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange explores the lives of several Natives living right here in Oakland, where they struggle with issues such as depression, unemployment, alcoholism, and fetal alcohol syndrome. In terms of identity, the characters in Orange’s novel explore what it’s like to be recognized by the larger culture as ambiguously non-white. Orange, who grew up in Oakland himself, brilliantly conveys the complex experience of the Native American grappling with his place in the United States — stolen land but also home. The book was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and has been loved by critics and famous authors such as Margaret Atwood, who called it “an astonishing literary debut.”

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