Lalita Tademy Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Lalita Tademy

Lalita Tademy

An interview with Lalita Tademy

Lalita Tademy chats with BookBrowse about her second novel, Red River, describing what it has been like to spend 10 years immersed in her family's history while writing Cane River and Red River, her attempts to trace her family back before their arrival in America and what she's working on now.

Red River ends in 1937. I'm very interested to know what happened to your family since then - I know that you were brought up in California, what caused your parents to move from Louisiana to California? Do most of the remainder of your family still live in Louisiana?

Lalita: My parents moved from Louisiana to San Francisco in the early 1940s, where there was a greater range of work opportunities available for a black man. My father, who never enjoyed teaching in Louisiana, came out alone first, worked in odd jobs in the construction trade created by World War II, and then sent for my mother and my two older sisters a few months later after he had a foothold. One by one, his brothers moved their families out to California as well, although none of the sisters relocated out West. Today, there are pockets of Tademys in both Louisiana and California, as well as most other parts of the country.

The family tree in Red River is fascinating, but because it only shows the birth dates of your grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents, it's difficult to know which you might have known first hand?

Lalita: My paternal grandfather Nathan Green Tademy died two years before I was born, although I did know my grandmother Lenora. So in truth, I did not know the generation of my male ancestors preceding my father portrayed in Red River personally, but through stories. Most family stories came down through their daughters, especially my Aunt Ellen, who just passed this year at the age of 93.

I feel that your ancestors must be very proud of you. What do your living relatives think of your writing?  You've written previously that, prior to the publication of Cane River, your relatives were uncomfortable about you writing about your family's history, believing that family business is private.  How have they reacted to Red River?

Lalita: It is too early to gauge the reaction to Red River, since the novel has just been released, but the reaction to Cane River by family members has, thankfully, been pride and an affirmation that the story has been told. My mother, who died last year, was always supportive of me as a daughter, but baffled as to why I felt the need to tell these difficult stories, especially since our lives are so much better today. In the end, once she saw so much positive response to Cane River, from friends, family, and strangers, she encouraged me to continue writing Red River.

Do you think that "Red River" will stir up feelings in Colfax?  Are there any movements to take down that appalling sign in outside the court house in Colfax commemorating the "riot"?

Lalita: I am curious as to what feelings Red River will provoke in the small town of Colfax. I don't live there, and haven't visited very often recently, so am not in touch with the current climate or mood of the place. Many of my closest relatives have passed on. I don't believe the town as a whole invests any pride in the sign outside of the courthouse, but I don't know of any movement to remove it. The sign is an official state historical marker.

Did you meet any resistance while researching "Red River"?

Lalita: Because I started doing genealogical research more than 20 years ago, my initial attempts to get information were not greeted warmly, but at the Colfax library and courthouse in recent years, I have readily been given assistance whenever and however I have asked.

Red River, like Cane River, is presented as a novel, but obviously is well grounded in your family history. Are all the key events factual?

Lalita: Red River is steeped in fact, and almost all of the key events actually occurred, but were told from the theoretical (and sometimes creative) point of view of people who were there at the time and able to witness the events unfold. Although I set the story as a family story, several of the specific details did not necessarily happen to my great grandfathers, but were incidents seen or experienced by people who testified in court after having survived the massacre. Documents verify that several McCullens were in the courthouse, and died there.

Your great-great-grandfather Sam Tademy's ancestors had come from Egypt, I assume sometime in the 18th century. Have you ever been able to trace any of your family back to there? Have you made any efforts to trace the French side of your family that you explored in Cane River?

Lalita: As hard as I have tried, I cannot document the exact timing of the first generation of Tademys on American soil. Last month, I went to Egypt, from Alexandria on the Mediterranean all the way down to Lower Nubia, and I tried to trace either the name Tademy or find similar stories to those I had heard about an Egypt-America journey by an African man. Unfortunately, the search was to no avail. My effort to trace the French side of my mother's family was more fruitful. I traveled to the south of France in 2000, just across the border with Spain, and actually found the village where my great grandfather was born before he immigrated to America. At the time of the visit, the mayor of Pezilla de Riviere had the same surname (Billes) as my great grandfather, and I discovered that the Billes clan had dominated the village since the 1500s.

How did working on your second novel differ to your first? Did you feel more confident knowing that you had already written a successful novel, or did it increase the pressure?

Lalita: Writing the second novel turned out to be more difficult than the first for many reasons. I thought I had learned enough about process from writing Cane River that writing Red River would be both easier and faster, but found that to be totally false. Not only did I have to go through all of the same trial and error attempts again, but the voices for Red River were harder to access, probably because they were predominately male. And although I had the foundation of a successful novel behind me, there were major expectations by others of what Red River should be that differed from my own vision. The final product, however, turned out to be what I wanted all along.

What has it been like to spend 10 years exploring your family history in such depth?

Lalita: The search for my ancestors has been a profound one for me, both in terms of recreating who they were as individuals as well as the times in which they lived. I honor and respect them, and after 10 years of living their lives in my head, I have to admit that I am ready to move on.

So, what are you working on now?

Lalita: I have started and rejected several novel storylines, but have yet to get grounded in the story I want to tell next. Never say never, but I am fairly certain that the next project will be contemporary, and the characters will bear no relation to family, living or dead. I'm looking forward, after the PR for Red River wears down, to producing something totally from my imagination.

I understand that you were recently married? Are you still living in the San Francisco Bay Area?

Lalita: My husband and I have been married for over 2 years now, and it still feels fresh and new. Fortunately, we are from the same general geographical area and have settled very comfortably into joint life in the Bay Area.

Copyright 2006

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Lalita Tademy at BookBrowse
Citizens Creek jacket Red River jacket Cane River jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!


All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Lalita Tademy but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Douglas A. Blackmon

    Douglas A. Blackmon

    Douglas A. Blackmon is the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, and co-executive producer of the acclaimed PBS documentary of the ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Red River

    Slavery by Another Name
    by Douglas A. Blackmon

  • Wiley Cash

    Wiley Cash

    Wiley Cash is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home. A native of North Carolina, he has held residency positions at Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony and teaches in the low-... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Red River

    The Last Ballad
    by Wiley Cash

We recommend 24 similar authors

View all 24 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Monkey Boy
    Monkey Boy
    by Francisco Goldman
    Francisco Goldman's Monkey Boy exists in the liminal space between memoir and fiction. Like Goldman ...
  • Book Jacket: The Girl in His Shadow
    The Girl in His Shadow
    by Audrey Blake
    The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake is a fast-paced historical novel set in Victorian-era England...
  • Book Jacket: Whereabouts
    by Jhumpa Lahiri
    Jhumpa Lahiri's Whereabouts has seen numerous comparisons to Second Place by Rachel Cusk. These two ...
  • Book Jacket: Swimming Back to Trout River
    Swimming Back to Trout River
    by Linda Rui Feng
    Linda Rui Feng's first novel, Swimming Back to Trout River, is a powerful meditation on the ties ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Book of Lost Names
by Kristin Harmel
A heartrending novel of survival, inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Morningside Heights
    by Joshua Henkin

    A tender and big-hearted novel about love in the face of loss, from the award-winning author of The World Without You.

Who Said...

A library is thought in cold storage

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

H I T Best P

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.