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Each year, UNC Pembroke's Campus Engagement and Leadership Center organizes a Distinguished Speaker Series at the Givens Performing Arts Center to allow thought-provoking guests to either speak on a particular subject or be interviewed by a member of the Engagement and Leadership committee. These speakers range from attorneys, doctors, baseball team owners, to authors. The series is meant to bring together students, faculty, and staff, as well as the local community members to have the opportunity to learn from professionals who have gained experience and knowledge through their work, and to share that knowledge with others – because not all knowledge can be taught in a classroom.
Author Tommy Orange of Oakland, CA, a member of the Southern Cheyanne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, spoke as part of the second installment of this year's Distinguished Speaker Series. For his part in the series, Orange participated in an interview, which focused on his life as an Indigenous person, how it affected his writing and journey to becoming a writer, and how his writing represents and reflects the lives of many other Indigenous people from various tribes. To kick off the interview, Orange told the audience about his upbringing in Oakland, the lack of Indigenous population there, and how that affected him as a person. At the end of the hourlong interview, questions were then opened to the audience. The event's organizer, Abdul Ghaffar, moved around the auditorium with a microphone as audience members raised their hands to be recognized.
Throughout the interview, Orange covered topics that were personal to him and personal to Indigenous tribes across the nation. These topics included the relationship between Indigenous tribes and the land, a topic that was also covered in his book, There, There. He spoke on the lack of role models that he had growing up, due to the small amount of Indigenous representation in media, film, and literature. However, his primary focus was on how he became a writer, a journey that he described as a "story of dying dreams." While working at a local bookstore and attending a nearby American Indian Center, Orange started writing for himself. Over the span of six years, he worked on his craft, technique, and eventual novel. During the interview, Orange also covered his writing process, how he came to understand his characters, the message of his story, and the purpose that he wanted it to serve. Each answer was explained in detail, which provided the audience with a clear understanding of Orange as a writer and as a person.
Orange's interview consisted of soft overhead lighting and well-adjusted microphones and audio channels. Audience members were able to clearly hear his response as well as the questions that were being asked. In addition to the well-lit area and clear audio, the stage was set to portray a sense of home with a gray and white carpet situated beneath the chairs. The chairs themselves were cream-colored and separated by a small coffee table that held a bottle of water for them both. The arrangement was intimate and encouraged conversation to flow naturally between Orange and the host.
Organizers of the event did not stream the event live online or make it virtually accessible. They did, however, organize a meet-and-greet prior to the interview that gave interested students, faculty, and members of student organizations the chance to speak with Orange one-on-one. During this time, Orange allowed students speak with him about various topics, even those outside of his novel.
The Distinguished Speaker Series continues to provide opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and community members to come together and learn from experienced professionals. The series was previously canceled due to the pandemic but has come back to GPAC at full capacity for the 2021-2022 year. Orange's interview is one of the many chances that audiences will have to learn and listen to others that have established and successful careers in their professions. The Distinguished Speaker Series provided Orange with the platform to share his journey of becoming a writer, his life as an Indigenous man in Oakland, and how those two experiences were intertwined and shaped by the other. Ultimately, it gave him the opportunity to show other Indigenous writers that there is room for them in the profession and that their dreams are also possible.
Orange's next novel will be a sequel/prequel to There, There.