A former Bakersfield news anchor is now a New York Times bestselling author. Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel, titled “Black Cake,” is getting a lot of attention and will even be developed into a series on Hulu.
Wilkerson has always enjoyed telling stories. She went from reporting the news in Kern County at KERO in the 1980s to writing her first novel “Black Cake,” a multi-generational tale about the secrets of a family that began in the Caribbean. “I have no doubt that my life as a reporter, having to write very short reports, has had an influence on the way I write fiction because I write in very short sections. I write short articles not knowing if they will be short stories, or something longer, or really nothing at all just a meditation on an idea. And that’s how I ended up writing a novel, I thought wait a second, it’s a longer story and these stories tie into these stories and all of a sudden I had a multi-generational story about a brother and sister who discover their mother had a hidden past.
Black cake is a traditional Caribbean dessert. But like the characters in the book, her story is more complex than that. And dessert becomes a symbol for families, their secrets and stories, and how they shape us. “Black cake is this delicious recipe, it’s traditional and it’s associated with weddings and Christmas but the cake itself is a descendant of the English plum pudding and like the family and like Eleanor the mother in the story, the cake has its own hidden history. How did an English plum pudding end up becoming a Caribbean fruitcake with rum, sugar and other spices? Well, it had to go through years of colonialism, forced labor, monoculture, sugar and rum economies, so it’s the story of a region that’s embedded in this cake,” says Wilkerson.
And the dessert is steeped in Wilkerson’s own history. Her mother was well known for her dark cake recipe, and now Wilkerson’s baking book has landed her on the New York Times bestseller list, and major reading lists like Read with Jenna in Today. Show. A sweet new chapter in his career, but by no means the conclusion.