Tademy, Lalita 1948-
Tademy, Lalita 1948-
Writer. Sun Microsystems, former vice president and general manager.
Cane River, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Cane River was recorded as an audiobook by Time Warner.
Lalita Tademy enjoyed a successful business career as vice president and general manager of Sun Microsystems, a computer firm. However, despite the job's high pay and prestige, she had little time for friends or other interests, so after three years, she quit. At first, she told Heather Knight in a San Francisco Chronicle interview, she was not sure what to do with herself. However, she had always had an interest in her family's history, and after eighteen months, she began writing Cane River.
Cane River, based on Tademy's research into her own family history, is a multigenerational novel tracing the connections among four generations of African American women, from before the U.S. Civil War to the 1930s. In the initial stages of her genealogical research, Tademy visited the National Archives and Records Administration building in San Bruno, California, but when she exhausted the resources there, she knew she had to go to her family's ancestral home of Cane River, Louisiana. Over the next few years, she took six trips there, visiting colleges, libraries, courthouses, and the historical society. She read old letters, newspapers, wills, and land claims. In addition, she talked to anyone who could tell her stories about the past.
Tademy's research made her realize that there were no easy answers to some of the questions she had about her family's past. She told Knight: "My perceptions when I started were: Slavery? Bad. White people? Evil. Black people? Victims. [But] there was so much gray in Cane River that I had to step back." Much of the confusion came from the fact that her own family was a mix of slaves and owners; some unions were the result of love, and others of rape. Although Tademy searched exhaustively, she was unable to trace her family farther back than 1850, and could not discover where in Africa her ancestors came.
Eventually, in 1997, she began writing. She told Knight: "In my head, I lived on the plantation, and then I lived through the Civil War, and then I lived in Reconstruction and then I lived in the Jim Crow South…. I was these women, but on the flip side, they were me. I really felt them as ancestors, not just characters I made up." Tademy took writing courses at Stanford and the University of California—Berkeley to help her learn to write effectively.
Reviewing the book in People, David Cobb Craig called it a "strongly written first novel about determined women in seemingly hopeless situations." Brenda Richardson, writing in the Black Issues Book Review, praised Tademy's use of original documents such as newspaper reports, photographs, deeds, and wills, which Tademy includes in the book. Richardson commented: "Folded into the story, like egg whites that allow a cake to rise, these documents enrich the blend of fact and fiction." A Good Housekeeping reviewer called the novel "a unique and absorbing historical novel that opens a window onto a disturbing period of American history." In Booklist, Vanessa Bush wrote: "This fascinating account of American slavery and race-mixing should enthrall readers who love historical fiction."
Tademy built upon the research she did on her family's history in Louisiana and turned it into a second novel, Red River. The novel covers a dark period in Louisiana history. Tademy only learned of her family's involvement in the episode through her research. On Easter Sunday of 1873, one hundred black men were massacred by a group of white supremacists after having exercised their newly granted right to vote. This event became know as the Colfax Massacre. Tademy tells the story of her ancestor, Sam Tademy, one of the few male members who voted that infamous day and actually survived the massacre. A contributor to Publishers Weekly labeled the novel "another American epic." Robert Fleming, writing in the Black Issues Book Review, concluded: "Well researched and well conceived, Red River is ultimately entertaining and deeply satisfying." A Kirkus Reviews contributor admitted that the first half of the book was full of "palpable tension," but thought that Tademy "tries to cram far too much history and family drama into the second half." Essence contributor Patrick Henry Bass ended his review stating: "Although this is just her second novel, Tademy writes with the skill and grace of a master storyteller."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Black Issues Book Review, May, 2001, Brenda Richardson, review of Cane River, p. 17; January 1, 2007, Robert Fleming, review of Red River, p. 40.
Booklist, February 15, 2001, Vanessa Bush, review of Cane River, p. 1086; August 1, 2006, Vanessa Bush, review of Red River, p. 8.
Crisis, January 1, 2007, Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, review of Red River, p. 47.
Ebony, January 1, 2007, review of Red River, p. 30.
Essence, January 1, 2007, Patrick Henry Bass, review of Red River, p. 61.
Fortune, July 3, 1989, Carol Davenport, "Lalita L. Tademy, 40," p.138.
Good Housekeeping, June, 2001, review of Cane River, p. 24.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2006, review of Red River, p. 873.
Library Journal, November 15, 2006, Laurie A. Cavanaugh, review of Red River, p. 60.
New York Times, July 26, 2001, Martin Arnold, "Books by Blacks in Top 5 Sellers," p. E3.
People, May 28, 2001, David Cobb Craig, review of Cane River, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, March 12, 2001, review of Cane River, p. 62; December 18, 2006, review of Red River, p. 43.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 1, 2001, Heather Knight, "Tracing Her Roots," p. PN1.
Times (London, England), April 16, 2001, Penny Wark, "A Love in Black and White," p. S12.
Washington Post, June 12, 2001, Jabari Asim, "Families Torn Asunder," p. C03.
Washington Post Book World, January 14, 2007, Kim McLarin, review of Red River, p. 7.
Book Page,http://www.bookpage.com/ (June 7, 2007), Katherine Wyrick, author interview.
Lalita Tademy Home Page,http://www.lalitatademy.com (September 16, 2001), author profile.