Tacoma Reads Youth Event at UW Tacoma

A woman standing in front of an audience, with a man seated to her left.
Dr. Danica Miller introduces Tommy Orange to an audience of Chief Leschi Schools and TPS high school students

The afternoon of Friday September 20th, prior to the city wide event, the UW Tacoma Library and the UW Tacoma School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, helped host a high school event for students from Tacoma Public Schools and Chief Leschi Schools. Roughly 90 students attended, along with their teachers and librarians.The high school students in attendance had read or were currently reading Mr. Orange’s novel and had the opportunity to hear the author read a small section from the book, and then ask him questions. 

Dr. Danica Miller of IAS facilitated the student discussion. This event preceded the city wide Tacoma Reads event hosted by Mayor Woodards along with the City of Tacoma, Tacoma Public Library, and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians at the Rialto Theater. 

Tommy Orange’s debut novel, There There has received widespread praise, making the New York Times “Ten Best Books of the Year” list, and being shortlisted for both the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, and the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. This novel tells the story of 12 different characters as they move towards the annual Big Oakland Powwow, and deals with themes of the urban native experience, systemic and generational violence, as well as hope, beauty, and identity.

The energy in the room was remarkable. Student questions spanned a wide range from personal to technical. Students asked Mr. Orange how he personally got through writer’s block, what advice he had for pursuing writing and how he personally became interested in literature. They asked him what books inspired him, and how he became interested in history.

Tommy shared that he would work through writer’s block by assigning himself to work as his own intern and focusing on the tedious tasks. He talked about treating writing like any other skill that requires practice and persistence, like a sport or a musical instrument and not viewing it as a talent that comes naturally. He talked about having two “failed dreams” prior to discovering writing – to be a professional roller hockey star and analog sound engineering, and how he was working part time in a used book store and discovered he loved literature. He shared his love of Franz Kafka, John Kennedy Toole, and Sylvia Plath. Mr. Orange shared that he became interested in accidentally, he kept noticing the “Indian head” motif, and dug into the history of it. Students were so engaged and interested in talking to Tommy that we had to cut off questions at the end of the hour. 

This school year, UW Tacoma Library and the Center for Equity and Inclusion will be co-hosting Real Lit[erature]: Reading for Social Justice for our second academic year, and are thrilled to be carrying the discussion forward and will be reading There There. If you are interested, please sign up via our online form. Our first meeting will be on October 3rd at 12:30 under the Chihuly Chandelier. Books will be provided to students, while supplies last. Faculty and staff are welcome to participate, but priority for the free copies of the book will be given to students. 

The event was a fantastic success and a great chance for local high school students to engage with literature. UW Tacoma Library loved getting to participate, and look forward to future events that engage local community with literature and issues of social justice. 


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