Words, Words, Words: Black Cake

by Charmaine Wilkerson

Thursday, December 01, 2022, 6:30 pm
Virtual Event on Zoom | 6:30 Eastern Time
Free, Registration required

"What do you read, my lord?"
"Words, words, words."
Hamlet, II.ii.209-10

About the Book Club

Join the Folger as we search the stacks for our favorite novels inspired by Shakespeare, the early modern era, and the holdings of the Folger Collection.

This informal Book Club is free and open to all. Our picks range from historical fiction to adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, encompassing a wide variety of genres—all sourced from a different local, independent bookstore partner each month.

This month we will be joined by Dr. Brittany Merritt Nash, who will provide historical context for the novel. After the presentation, participants will be broken into smaller groups for breakout discussions, moderated by a team of staff and volunteers.

Participation is free but registration is required. Sessions will be conducted through Zoom, so keep an eye on your inbox the day before for an access link, along with recommendations for quick bites and beverages to enjoy while we chat.

Our December Pick

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

We can’t choose what we inherit. But can we choose who we become?

In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage and themselves.

Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right”? Will their mother’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever?

Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel is a story of how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names can shape relationships and history. Deeply evocative and beautifully written, Black Cake is an extraordinary journey through the life of a family changed forever by the choices of its matriarch.

Presented in collaboration with The Emily Dickinson Birthday Tribute

Why did we choose this?

The Folger Shakespeare Library's collection explores not only Shakespeare's life and works, but also the plays' historical context, source material, critical and performance histories, the ways in which they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists. The Folger is equally committed to historical inquiry and nuturing the continuation of the literary and poetic expression.

The Emily Dickinson Birthday Tribute is an annual collaboration between the O. B. Hardison Poetry Series and The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA. Each December we explore a different aspect of Dickinson's work and influence, pairing this tribute with a black cake recipe based on one of Dickinson's own. This year we are taking that tradition as a spark of inspiration to look more closely at food pathways, cultural traditions, and the richness of discovery that exists when taking a multi-faceted approach to a topic.

Presented in collaboration with The O.B. Hardison Emily Dickinson Birthday Tribute and the Folger Institute.

Learn more about and explore the Folger's collection of handwritten recipe books through our project, ‘Before Farm to Table:’ Early Modern Foodways and Culture.

Order Your Book


Purchase Your Copy 

This month we are excited to partner again with Duende District, a bookstore for and by people of color, where all are welcome.

Duende District is a boutique pop-up bookstore that specializes in the best new adult and children's books by Black and brown authors in English and Spanish, with locations in Washington, D.C., and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

You can find them online at duendedistrict.com. Let's build community.

We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support of this program:





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