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AfriGeneas Writers Forum

Lalita Tademy: MoAD in S. F. Writing Family History

Lalita Tademy at MoAD- May 30, 2007

Lalita Tademy appeared at the astounding Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) on last Wednesday evening, May 30, 2007 to discuss her most recent book, Red River and her best seller, Cane River. Belva Davis, local broadcaster/journalist and talk show personality and first black woman journalist in the Bay Area was the moderator/interviewer.

I took extensive notes but I want to share with the Afrigeneas Writers Forum the things that were said pertaining to writing. She talked about writing family history in fiction and nonfiction formats, writing American history and her writing process. I chose to keep the thread going about writing family history in historical context.

Tademy said she wanted to give voice to those stories that are begging to be told. The history of her ancestors is very much American history. She wanted the voices of those who have not been heard to be known. She wanted to bring the verbal to the written word. She chose to write fiction or rather as she calls it “faction” than nonfiction because she did not want someone coming back and saying she got such and such wrong; this didn’t happen, etc. Her belief is “you can sometimes get more truth with fiction then with nonfiction.” All family members in both books did exist; they are based on someone real. She just took poetic license in telling the story. They are multigenerational sagas.

After she left corporate America, she studied her families’ genealogy on both her maternal and paternal sides and made a book on her family history with bios of her ancestors and gave copies to her family member as well as her niece and nephews. Her mother, at first, did not understand why she wanted to go digging up the past. They agreed to disagree but she eventually came around when Cane River was published. The young people showed little interest. It was at that time, she decided to write her family story against historical context using fiction. She decided to make it so compelling the kids would want to read it. She had enough information for two books so she wrote about both the maternal and paternal sides. After she signed her contracts for both books, she told the publishers she wanted to use photos and actual documents to enrich the story and to show that these events were real as were her ancestors' lives.

There is a connection between Cane River and Red River which is evidenced in Red River when her father courts her mother. The Cane River region and Red River area are in the same geographical area, only 20 miles apart. Her maternal side, Cane River, was more Creole French, where as her father’s story was African ancestor centered. Cane River was woman-to-woman, mother-to-daughter and Red River was man-to-man, father-to-son stories. It took three years to write each book, consecutively.

She had thirteen agent rejection letters before she found one who wanted the book and then it went to auction. It is harder to sell fiction than nonfiction. The first title for Cane River was Miss Emily’s Place but the publishers did not like it. She did not know about the publishing business and how a title that a writer thinks is just great and wants to hold onto can be rejected and how the publishers make those kinds of decisions. They wanted something with the word river in it and they went through several title suggestions that were not working for anybody. Finally, it got down to the wire for publication and Cane River popped into Tademy’s head. She therefore did not get invested in a title for Red River and used it as a working title and to her surprise the publisher went with it.

After writing such emotionally wrenching books, she is now writing a contemporary novel, that she describes as frivolous but she is having fun and it is still in its early stages; she is getting familiar with the characters, not knowing where it will go. She gets fans mail from all over the world. Cane River was translated into eleven languages. She is very disciplined and writes almost everyday.

Dera Williams
June 1, 2007
Copyright © 2007 Dera R Williams

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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