|photo: Chris Hardy
Lalita Tademy spent more than a decade running business units within large Silicon Valley companies. In 1998, she was named an African-American Innovator in the New Millennium at the Silicon Valley Tech Museum of Innovation. But her own interest in her family's roots, and the ongoing issues of racism and women's empowerment, plus her love of writing, led her to focus all of her energies on her second career: writing. Tademy's debut novel, Cane River, was Oprah's summer book pick in 2001 and was translated into 11 languages. Her second novel, Red River, was San Francisco's One City, One Book title in 2007. Her third novel is Citizens Creek (Atria, November 4, 2014), a fictionalized account of a family of Muscogee-speaking black Indians in the 1800s.
On your nightstand now:
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I sometimes find it difficult to read novels that cover the same territory that I have (such as slavery), but I'm almost finished with this book and very glad I picked it up. And what's not to like about another Oprah author?
Favorite book when you were a child:
I don't really remember reading true children's books, although I started reading books before kindergarten. The book I loved in elementary or middle school was A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter, published in 1909. The primary character was a marginalized high-school girl in Indiana being raised by a mean widowed mother who didn't support her passion for an education. She was ridiculed for her unfashionable clothes, and I rooted so hard for this girl to prevail (spoiler alert: she ultimately did) that I exhausted myself each time I reread the book.
Your top five authors:
Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, Octavia E. Butler, Gloria Naylor and Larry McMurtry.
Book you've faked reading:
James Joyce's Ulysses. There is just no way that this book is or has ever been accessible for me, and I have to admit, I'm not the least bit ashamed of the fact. However, I have nodded politely in a group and said nothing when a discussion about Ulysses has ensued, and by not declaring, I guess this falls into the "fake it" category.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This novel wowed me, articulating so many nuances about race relations and human nature in unique and surprising ways that I have become obnoxious in my zeal for everyone to read it. I don't really identify with the main character, but her insights are so sharp and spot-on that the momentum of the novel never flagged for me.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Book that changed your life:
This is hardly an original choice, but Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird absolutely blew my mind when I was in high school in California. Our African-American family integrated into a white suburb there in the 1950s, and the town was extremely hostile to our presence. Atticus Finch gave me hope that not everyone in the country was narrow-minded and bent on our destruction. It is easy to go back now and criticize the sentimentality of the novel, but I viewed the world in a different way after reading this book. Isn't that the greatest possible thing a novel can do?
Favorite line from a book:
This quote must have appeared elsewhere first, and is embedded in country music songs, but I first ran into it reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry: "The older the violin, the sweeter the music." I loved those two friends and former Texas Rangers, Augustus and Captain Call, with their authenticity, bravery and wisdom [from] living life.
Which character you most relate to:
Is it cheating to name one of your own characters you've created? Philomene Daurat, in my book Cane River, is so determined and gutsy and single-minded when it comes to something she wants for herself or her family, I can relate to her drive.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Mama Day by Gloria Naylor. This novel of star-crossed lovers à la Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet recast with African-Americans in New York breaks my heart each time I read it, hoping for a different outcome each time.