Friday, April 18, 2014

Q&A with author Caroline Clarke

Caroline Clarke is the author of the new book Postcards from Cookie: A Memoir of Motherhood, Miracles, and a Whole Lot of Mail. It tells the story of how she found her birth mother, Carole "Cookie" Cole--a daughter of Nat King Cole--and the relationship they developed. Clarke also has written the book Take A Lesson. She has been editorial director and executive editor at Black Enterprise, has hosted the show Black Enterprise Business Report, and has been a staff writer at The American Lawyer. She lives in New York.

Q: Why did you decide to write a memoir about your experiences?

A: An editor friend of mine said, “God made you a writer and God made this your story so you have to tell it.” On one level, it’s that simple. I’m a private person so putting myself out there has not been easy, but this was an amazing story worth sharing.

On top of that, being adopted is the best thing that ever happened to me and I know there are countless incredibly positive and fascinating adoption stories to be told but we don’t hear them. When adoption is in the news, it tends to be that rare instance where something went terribly wrong so there’s a lot of resistance to adoption in certain quarters. I wanted to counter that. I also wanted to write a book in tribute to all of my parents.

Q: What were the reactions of your family members to your writing the book?

A: Very supportive on all sides and I deeply appreciate it because there’s a certain level of exposure for them that’s not necessarily easy to swallow. You can’t tell your own story without telling others as well.

Q: In the book, you describe your reactions upon realizing that you already knew the family of your birth mother. How did that affect your relationship with your birth mother, Cookie?

A: If anything, it made our reunion easier. I hadn’t met her, but I had met several of her family members so she wasn’t this huge unknown; we each had a context for each other that was somewhat comforting and helpful.

On the other hand, there was an awkwardness – not with each other, but around the whole issue of who knew what when and why hadn’t they been more forthcoming about it? It was hard for Cookie to believe that her mother and sister suspected I was her daughter and never delved deeper or tried to facilitate our meeting.

Q: You write about your lack of interest in knowing about your birth father. Why haven't you been interested in finding out more about him, and do you think the publication of this memoir could lead, perhaps inadvertently, to your finding out more information about that side of your birth family?

A: Keep in mind, I didn’t go searching for my birthmother either. I loved my family and felt wholly a part of it; I assumed whatever I’d lost paled by comparison to what I gained through adoption.

Through the years, whenever I did consider looking for my birthfamily, it was always about a mother-figure. I assumed if my father had been present and willing, I wouldn’t have been given up. I haven’t looked for him since because he has no idea I exist.

It’s one thing to reach out to Cookie, who of course experienced her own journey around my birth, adoption, and its aftermath. It’s a very different thing to contact some man who has gone about his life all these years having no idea he ever conceived of a child with Cookie.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working at my real jobs at the media company, Black Enterprise, and at promoting this book! My hope is that it not only does well but that it also does some good by moving, uplifting and inspiring people to sift out their own hidden stories. Whether you’re adopted or not, we all have them and it’s empowering to know your own truth.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’d love to hear people’s reactions to the book and to keep the conversation on issues raised in Postcards from Cookie going. I’m easy to find at or @carolinevclarke on Twitter.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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