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"There, There" author shares 8 books to read for Native American Heritage Month

“We are so often only depicted in the past tense,” bestselling author Tommy Orange said. That's why he's recommending newly released books that depict Indigenous people in present day.

As a bestselling author, Tommy Orange makes sure to include modern technology and references in his writing that features Native American people.

“We are so often only depicted in the past tense,” the "There, There" author told TODAY. “On top of that, we aren’t represented very much in the media. And when we are, it’s a stereotype. I think the power of doing that work yourself, representing yourself and your people on the page or in books or movies or TV shows, is the most powerful way to give an accurate representation of who you are as a people."

For Native American Heritage Month, Orange, who is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, shared his list of must-read books by Native authors in 2022. He encourages people to read them and learn about Native cultures from the people who know them best.

“The history of many people in this country is deeply connected to who we are in history and who we are today and what made this country what it is. As dark as some of those truths might be, not looking at them is not helping anyone,” he said.

While much of the history is dark, Orange is heartened by the changes he's seeing in the publishing industry.

“A lot more Native authors have visibility and are putting out books,” he said. “I just hope that sustains itself and continues to grow and and just be a force in the literary world."

1. "White Horse" by Erika Wurth

Wurth’s book “White Horse,” released in November, falls under the horror genre.

“This is an excellent novel that just came out that I think is getting a lot of attention right now,” Orange said. The book addresses a lot of Native issues, which is one of the things he likes best about Wurth’s work.

The book features an Indigenous woman who is haunted by the past and her mother’s spirit. Throughout the novel, she searches for answers about what really happened to her mother all these years later.

“During heritage months, you sometimes think of the past,” Orange said. “All of these contemporary authors, even if they’re writing contemporary stories, they’re always addressing the past and how badly we’ve been represented in history books and the media.”

2. "Man Made Monsters" by Andrea Rogers

If you're looking for a young adult book, Orange recommends “Man Made Monsters.” Rogers, a Cherokee author, was also one of Orange's students. Her book follows the lives of a Cherokee family in the past, present and future and is filled with zombies, vampires and werewolves. The pages of the book also bring to life the legends and characters in Cherokee stories, including Deer Woman and various sea creatures.

3. "Calling for a Blanket Dance" by Oscar Hokeah

“Calling for a Blanket Dance” is one of Orange’s favorite books of the year.

“Everyone in the novel is sort of connected by this one character,” he said. “There’s a whole range of voices and it’s just a really big and full read and I loved it.”

The book tells the story of a man named Ever Geimausaddle through different family members' perspectives. As he talks with his family, he uncovers his Cherokee grandmother’s history of moving the family across the state, his grandfather's hopes of teaching him traditional gourd dances and his connection to his ancestral heritage.

4. "Night of the Living Rez" by Morgan Talty

Another book Orange recommends is “Night of the Living Rez.” This collection of twelve stories addresses addiction, family and what it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century, specifically Penobscot, an Indigenous tribe from Maine.

“Morgan Talty’s short story collection is one of my favorite books of the year,” Orange said. “It is so powerful and it’s got a lot of good attention so far already, and it will get more, which it completely deserves. I can’t wait to see what he does next.”

5. "A Minor Chorus" by Billy Ray-Belcourt

“A Minor Chorus” is Ray-Belcourt’s first novel after publishing a memoir and poetry collections.

“He’s a really great writer,” Orange said.

The book tells the story of a queer Indigenous doctoral student and the journey he goes through as he takes a break from his dissertation to write a novel. He is taken back to his life growing up on a reservation and his transition to living in the city. As the story unfolds in Northern Alberta, the doctoral student meets a closeted man and helps him navigate embracing his identity of being both queer and Native.

6. "Sacred City" by Theodore Van Alst Jr.

“Sacred City” explores Chicago’s history as an Indigenous land. The narrative helps readers understand the complexity of the land that was and will always be Native.

“I love the way Theo Van Alst Jr. writes about (how an) urban Native lives in Chicago. There is something so familiar about the lives he writes about, and what he is doing with language is so new and unexpected,” he said. “It’s a follow up to his other collection, ‘Sacred Smokes,’ and both are also incredibly performed audiobooks.

"There aren’t enough representations of urban Native lives in books," Orange continued, "but Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. has made an essential contribution.”

7. "Becoming Story" by Greg Sarris

Sarris’ book teaches us about the beauty of creating a relationship with your homeland. Throughout the memoir, he walks readers through his life as he discovers his own relationship to his Native land, leading him to become a tribal leader.

“My greatest regret regarding my novel, ‘There There,’ was not including or acknowledging California Natives, specifically the Ohlone people. I wrote a book about a place and failed to acknowledge the people whose home it was first,” Orange said.

"This is such quietly penetrating meditation on what it means to be connected to the place you come from," Orange added.

8. "We Are the Land: A History of Native California" by Damon B. Akins and William J. Bauer Jr.

"We Are the Land" tells the story of California before it became modern California. The book explores the history of the area and the Indigenous people who shaped it.

“California history has been taught in such a wrongheaded way for so long in schools,” Orange said. “Here we have a thorough, engaging book that centers Native life written by a Native person ... we need more history books written by us as there have been countless history books written by white people about us. Over these many years, we have been left out of the telling of our stories.”

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