In 2022, award-winning journalist and short story writer Charmaine Wilkerson made her long-awaited foray into the world of full-length prose with her debut novel, Black Cake. A book rife with history – personal, family, and food – Black Cake is multilayered and multifaceted. It also grappled with the plights of migrants and of persons of color in contemporary America. It was, without a doubt, an enchanting work from an excitable voice. In this quotable quotes update, I have rounded some of the most memorable lines from the book.

Do check out my complete review of this literary work by clicking here.


But the fact was, when you lived a life, under any name, that life became entwined with others’. You left a trail of potential consequences. You were never just you, and you owed it to the people you cared about to remember that.

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

“Of course, I wish that you had been more patient with us, but you were hurt and you were willing to walk away in order to protect yourself. I was deeply disappointed but over time, I realized I could identify with what you’d done. I hope that you won’t be afraid to make the same kind of choice again, if you feel that this is what you need to do to survive. Question yourself, yes, but don’t doubt yourself. There’s a difference.”

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

“Byron wants to believe that this epidemic of mistreatment, this bullying of unarmed black men is just that, an outbreak, though prolonged, that can be brought under control. He wants to keep believing in law enforcement officers, to respect the risky work that they do, knowing that every day they step into unknown territory. He wants to know that he can still pick up the phone and call the cops if he ever needs to. There’s a lot of anger out there. A lot of hurt. Where are they all gonna end up—black, white, whoever—if things don’t get any better? What would his father say, if he knew that things were still this way in America in 2018? He has a fleeting thought, a blasphemous thought, that maybe it’s just as well his dad isn’t around anymore to see the way things are.”

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

This is what I would like to say to you folks, that in life, you should just catch the wave and ride it. But what of you don’t see any good waves coming your way? You need to go looking. Don’t stop looking, all right? And one of the ways to do that looking is to keep studying. Do not underestimate the value of applying yourselves in school. Because you cannot win if you don’t play.

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

It was that she understood that one of the things that made you human was your willingness to deviate from the script. The problem was, scripts were like battles. You had to choose when to go with them and when not to. And you had to be prepared to live with the consequences.

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

To say the vase was blue was about as imprecise as calling a person interesting, but everyone agreed that it was, at the very least, blueish. Benny sat staring at the waist-high object for what felt like an hour, pulling her gaze up from the mostly emerald lower border, through its rich celestial middle, to the pale aquamarine splash at the top, the flecks of gold and amber near the upper edge, and finally, part of the lip and bulge of the vase, which had been left uncolored, the natural, reddish tone of the pottery exposed.

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

If you want to surf, don’t wait to find someone out there who looks just like you before you go surfing. And if you’re interested in my field, ocean sciences, remote sensing, or something like chemistry or biology or information technology, don’t wait for someone to give you permission. Just go ahead and study and apply for programs everywhere you can, because we need more talented young people, of all kinds, and you can’t win if you don’t play.”

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

Just don’t go thinking that this is all there is to succeeding in life, this picking up and walking away from people. It should never be an easy answer to your troubles. I have lived long enough to see that my life has been determined not only by the meanness of others but also by the kindness of others, and their willingness to listen.

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

It’s getting to the point where Byron is afraid to drive at night. It’s getting to the point where he’s declined to visit certain friends in certain nieghborhoods after a certain hour, not out of a fear of crime but out of fear of being stopped by police. It has gotten to the point where the last time he needed a new car, he bought a less sleek model, one that wouldn’t catch the eye of someone who didn’t think a black man should own a certain kind of vehicle.

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

People had a tendency to relate to only one thing or another, not to people like her, not to inbetweeners, not to neither-nors. This had been true in politics, it had been true in religion, it had been true in culture, and it sure as hell was true when it came to the laws of attraction.

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

“What you need to do is know who you are, and where you are at all times. This is about you finding and keeping your center. This is how you can take on a wave. Then you might find that you need to practice more, or there’s a storm swell coming in, or the wave is simply too much for you. You might even decide that you’re just not cut out for the surfing and that’s all right, too. But you cannot know which of these is true unless you go out there with your head in the right place.”

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

“They don’t tell you how to live with this kind of anger, this prickly feeling under your skin. That’s the thing about false narratives that ultimately define your life. When you finally learn that you’ve been lied to for years by the people you’ve trusted the most, even when you can see why they might have done it. That awareness contaminantes every other relationship you have.”

~ Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake