top of page

Author Charmaine Wilkerson Brings A Taste of Caribbean Culture to the Masses with ‘Black Cake’


Charmaine Wilkerson Photo/Getty Images

Like many other Caribbean people, Caribbean-American author Charmaine Wilkerson remembers the smell of her mother baking black cake in the kitchen when she was growing up. However, for Wilkerson, black cake not only represents a holiday or special occasion but also the culture, history, and beauty of her family story. 


Black cake, also known as rum cake or plum cake in Caribbean communities, is a sacred culinary tradition within families. While the basic recipe remains consistent, slight variations emerge among islands and households. These distinctions might arise from the selection of dried fruits, the blend of liquors infused into the batter, or the customary dousing of rum post-baking, all of which contribute to the unique character of each family's rendition.

Black Cake the Book

Charmaine Wilkerson has brought her cultural heritage to the forefront and carved a significant space in the literary world with her New York Times best-selling debut novel, "Black Cake." Through her captivating narrative, Wilkerson intertwines family, history, and the essence of Caribbean culture, symbolized by the cherished tradition of baking black cake. As Wilkerson eloquently states in an essay for Elle Magazine, "Food can play a role in anchoring individuals, families, and entire cultures amid change," and her novel exemplifies this beautifully.


Born in the United States but raised between Jamaica and New York, Wilkerson's upbringing forms the backdrop of her novel, though it is not an autobiography. Instead, "Black Cake" delves into the intricacies of relationships, betrayals, and untold stories, set on an unnamed island but spanning across various locales. Wilkerson's ability to weave a tale transcending time and generations speaks volumes about her storytelling prowess and deep-rooted connection to her Caribbean heritage.


In addition to making the New York Times Best Seller list, "Black Cake" has been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Parade Magazine, and Elle Magazine and was included in Barack Obama's favorite book list of 2022.


Despite her newfound success, Wilkerson remains grounded in her Caribbean roots, as evidenced by her continued engagement with literary communities throughout the Caribbean region and visits to various islands, which she shares on her social media platform. 


How "Black Cake" Became a Hulu Series

The success of "Black Cake" didn't stop at the pages of the novel. Even before its publication, the story caught the attention of creators who were vying to adapt it for the TV screen. This led to a bidding war among production companies, ultimately resulting in a visually stunning adaptation now available on Hulu. 


The eight-episode series, spearheaded by Oprah Winfrey's production company, Harpo Films, and creator Marissa Jo Cerar, was released to the streaming platform in November of 2023. Since then, it has been highly rated among viewers and critics, further solidifying Wilkerson's impact on mainstream media.

The Hulu series "Black Cake" has transformed Wilkerson's acclaimed novel into a delectable serving of period drama. The fusion of soap opera intrigue and mysterious undertones tantalizes viewers. The series intertwines the present-day lives of siblings B and B, who find themselves navigating the world without their parents, with the mesmerizing saga revealed through their late mother's oral history. This tale delves deep into the heart of their mother's 1960s childhood in the West Indies, uncovering truths that challenge everything the siblings believed they knew about her. 


The series's first season completed the story as written by Wilkerson, but there are talks of a second season. Showrunner Cerar told The Washington Post Live that she sees the first season as a jumping-off point to develop the characters.


Becoming a Writer

Wilkerson's journey to becoming a writer was not without its twists and turns. Before embarking on her journey as a novelist, Wilkerson pursued a career in broadcast journalism, honing her storytelling skills in newsrooms across California and Connecticut. However, she later transition to a job with the United Nations, where she worked tirelessly on initiatives to reduce poverty and hunger. 


In an interview with BookPage, Wilkerson said that it wasn't until her father's passing in 2013 that she fully embraced her calling as a writer. Inspired by her father's unwavering dedication to his craft, she embarked on a path of self-discovery through fiction writing, a journey she courageously shared. "I realized I had to stop thinking that I was being frivolous and recognize that it was work. So, I made some changes in my life." 

She decided to follow her passion, beginning with short fiction writing, and step toward her dreams while making it a discipline, just as she admired her father's work. In a YouTube interview with 'LB, The Lover of Books,' she shared that her transition from fact-based journalism to fiction writing freed her to rediscover herself.


Her Storytelling Journey Continues

The transition from journalism to fiction allowed Wilkerson to explore new creative horizons, culminating in the creation of "Black Cake." The novel stands as a testament to Wilkerson's artistic vision. This literary gem, which has been translated into several languages, complete with her mother's cherished recipe, can be purchased in brick-and-mortar bookstores and online worldwide.


Wilkerson is working on her second novel, which readers can expect in early 2025. Her journey is a beacon of inspiration for aspiring creatives navigating their path. Her story underscores the importance of embracing one's unique identity and the often-overlooked treasures within one's own narrative.



bottom of page