Tommy Orange, author of the bestselling novel “There There,” has picked up another literary award, the latest in a string of prizes for the Native American author's critically acclaimed debut novel.
Orange won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, presented at a ceremony in Cleveland Thursday evening. The awards, given annually by the Cleveland Foundation, recognize “literature that confronts racism and explores diversity,” according to a statement from the organization.
“There There” follows 12 Native American characters whose lives intersect at a powwow in Oakland, California. The novel was praised by reviewers for its depiction of the urban Indian experience, a rarity in contemporary American fiction. Orange, 36, is an enrolled in the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations. “There There” hit national bestseller lists after it was published in June 2018 and has racked up an impressive roster of literary prizes, including the PEN/Hemingway Award, The National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize and The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.
Other winners at the 84th annual Anisfield-Wolf Awards include Andrew Delbanco, author of “The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War,” which picked up the nonfiction prize. Delbanco is a professor of American Studies at Columbia University, and his book was praised by awards judge Henry Louis Gates Jr., as a work of “brilliant historical analysis.”
U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith took home the poetry award for her collection “Wade in the Water,” which includes among its 52 poems letters and testimonies from African-American soldiers in the Civil War. Smith won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 2012.
Poet, playwright and activist Sonia Sanchez won a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Judges for the 2019 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards were Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., poet Rita Dove, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, psychologist Steven Pinker and historian Simon Schama. Past winners of the awards include the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison and Wole Soyinka.