John Cabot University Welcomes Author Charmaine Wilkerson

On May 26, the JCU Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation welcomed New York Times best-selling author, Charmaine Wilkerson, for a reading of her first novel, Black Cake (Ballantine Books, 2022). 

Charmaine Wilkerson

Charmaine Wilkerson

Wilkerson grew up in Jamaica and has done most of her writing in Rome, where she has lived on and off for the past 20 years. She graduated from Barnard College and Stanford University and has written award-winning short fiction that has appeared in many magazines throughout her career as a news and communication professional. Her first novel, Black Cake, published in February 2022, has been very successful and is currently being developed into an eight-part series by the streaming service Hulu. 

A multigenerational novel that jumps between the past and the present, Black Cake depicts the story of two estranged siblings, Benny and Byron, and their unlikely reunion as they deal with the aftermath of their mother’s passing. Following their journey, the story explores how lies and secrets can impact one’s relationships and even reshape the past. Wilkerson read the first few pages of the novel, introducing the two siblings as they reunite for the first time in eight years to listen to a voice recording their mother left behind for them.

When asked about her inspiration for the novel, Wilkerson said she didn’t begin the story knowing that a novel would come out of it. She had written a number of different stories and did not realize that the people she had written about were connected until later. Wilkerson commented, “This is very much a story of identity. It deals with the difference between the identity that we create for ourselves and the ways in which external pressures shape that identity.”

Giving advice to a young writer in the audience, Wilkerson compared writing a novel to training for a marathon in that she started small and progressively advanced to writing larger portions at once. She encouraged students to make progress no matter how small as any form of progress is still significant. “Keep trying, keep doing it. One day you’ll write five pages, another day you’ll write two words. Don’t get discouraged, just keep going,” concluded Wilkerson.

This reading was part of a series of events held by the JCU Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation.