Interview With an Author: Cassandra Lane

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Cassandra Lane and her debut novel, We Are Bridges
Cassandra Lane and her debut novel, We Are Bridges

Cassandra Lane is the winner of the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize and Editor-in-Chief of L.A. Parent Magazine. She previously worked as a newspaper staff reporter and received an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University LA. Her debut novel is We Are Bridges and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for We Are Bridges?

I was inspired to begin writing this story as part of a self-discovery and healing journey I was on at the time. I wanted to understand who I was and why I was—psychologically, emotionally, and even physically, as I was experiencing some challenges in each of these areas. Particularly in searching for what had shaped my worldview around race and romance, I knew I needed to examine my family's past. The oldest "origin story" we had was that of my maternal great-grandparents: Mary Magee and Burt Bridges. Burt was lynched in Mississippi around 1904, the year of my mother's father's birth, and I became obsessed with that act of domestic terrorism in my bloodline. How had that violence seeped into generation after generation? And since it had torn apart his and Mary's love and future together, what did that mean for future generations' romantic relationships? In fact, how were race and romance intertwined in this country?

In your acknowledgments you describe working on We Are Bridges long enough for it to feel like a separate entity. How long did you work on it and did it evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any people, stories, or events that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

I have been saying that I wrote the first seeds of this with the first short story I wrote about white men coming for Burt to murder him on some bogus charge. I wrote those early scenes around 2002 while doing the M.F.A. program at Antioch University Los Angeles. In hindsight, though, I've remembered that an essay I wrote about my father was truly the first piece I wrote about the theme of father longing and loss. It was published in The Gambit in New Orleans in 2000, and a piece of that was woven into We Are Bridges. So, in essence, I've worked on the book on and off for 20 years and it has undergone several (many) different structure approaches and revisions and titles!

In finishing the final version under book contract during the first year of the pandemic, I was fortunate to work with amazing editors at The Feminist Press, who helped me see what I could cut and where I needed to expand. One editor told me: "You have many books inside you, Cassandra. They don't all have to be in this one." That was hilarious and liberating to me.

Have you continued to explore the history of your family? What have you discovered, if anything, since you completed your memoir?

I had included an epilogue (that we ended up cutting that propelled the story further into the future, which included a 2018 short and impulsive trip to my ancestors' Mississippi town—where Burt was likely lynched, and his son was born. The experience was surreal. I also hired a longtime Mississippi researcher for a bit who found a Burt Bridges on a 1900 U.S. census report—and we believe it is the same Burt. These later stories did not end up staying in the current book, but I will continue to research, explore and write.

If you had the chance, is there something you would want to tell Mary, Burt, Avis, or any other family members that are no longer with us?

So very many things. First, I would ask them if I could record them—the sound of their voices. I wish so badly that I could hear them speak that my son and future generations could. Also, I love that phrase that Black people have been embracing for some time now, "We are our ancestors' wildest dreams," but I would love my ancestors to know-how, despite societal and personal trials and failures, they are also my wildest dream. They possessed rich gifts that I can only attempt to tap into and that fill me with pride and humility at the same time.

How is Solomon, a few years, I'm guessing, after you've written your and his story?

Solomon is 13 now! He has not read the book yet, but he is immensely proud. I carry within me the memories and longings of our people he never had the fortune to meet because they were long gone. We make annual trips to the South so that he can be with my mother and siblings, who carry these stories and traditions within them as well, and Solomon loves these visits. He loves this part of the South—a part that is enriching and safe and expansive because it exudes from people who love him.

Will you share We Are Bridges with Solomon when he's a bit older?

I absolutely will, and I had imagined 16 was a good age. However, he read an NPR interview about the book that detailed what I thought might not be age-appropriate themes, which opened up some conversations earlier than I thought I was ready for.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

The Healing by Gayl Jones.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw.
Eat the Mouth That Feeds You by Carribean Fragoza.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Lucille Clifton
Toni Morrison
Edwidge Danticat
James Baldwin
Paule Marshall

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Are You There God? It's Me Margaret.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

I had to hide sneaking and reading my mom's romance novels when I was in elementary school!

What is a book you've faked reading?


Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

Libertie. Can't wait to read it as well!

Is there a book that changed your life?

Song of Solomon.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Lynell George's A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

In Our Mother's Gardens, the documentary by filmmaker Shantrelle P. Lewis, now streaming on Netflix!

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Getting up before the sun to light candles, incense, steep tea, and then write for two hours straight. Go for a workout. Return home to shower and read and eat. Head out to explore my city through nature, art museums, murals, and strangers. Recording ideas and quotes and stories through it all. A delicious dinner outside with family and friends. Watching the sunset on the beach with these loved ones. Ending the day with music, candlelight and a long bath, and a good book.

What are you working on now?

I am turning next to the idea of reclamation through natural healing. The kind of root knowledge the old women in my family had, dating back to our ancestors in Africa and the Native people they met here. How did we get separated from this land wisdom, how has it hurt us, and how can we reclaim it?

Book cover for We Are Bridges: A Memoir
We Are Bridges: A Memoir
Lane, Cassandra