Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson’s memoir, The Plum Tree Blossoms Even in Winter, will be released May 4, 2022. To celebrate its debut, Wayne State University Press will host a meet-and-greet and book signing with Wilson May 4 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the WSU Bookstore, which is located at 82 W. Warren Ave. in Detroit.
Wilson always wanted to write a memoir because he knew he had an unusual story to tell, but he planned to wait until after retirement. He changed his mind for a couple of reasons.
“I had more time on my hands because of the pandemic, and evenings were suddenly free,” he said. “As I reflected more on it, I realized that I want the book to have some impact — and I realized that it would probably have more impact while I was a sitting president rather than retired.”
The message Wilson is hoping readers take away from The Plum Tree Blossoms Even in Winter is to not give up in the face of challenges.
In his 210-page book, Wilson — who was born to a Japanese mother and Black father — shares deeply personal stories about how his childhood in Japan was marked by parental absence, sexual abuse, extended periods as a runaway, physical confrontations and frequent moves. He details how he overcame those obstacles to attend Harvard Medical School and become president of four universities, dean of two medical schools, and deputy director for one of the National Institutes of Health’s centers and institutes.
“I want young people, particularly, to understand that even when things are dark and dreary, there is a way,” said Wilson. “Most blossoming trees — for example, the cherry blossom — bloom in the spring. What’s unique about the plum tree is that it blossoms in the dead of winter, in February, so even in the darkest, dreariest and coldest of times, something beautiful and good can come out of it. It’s a metaphor for resilience, for hope, for perseverance.”
Wilson says that once he made the decision to share his story, the book “just sprang forth.” He worked tirelessly on nights and weekends, writing it in about five months.
“It was good to go through the process of writing it, but it was also good to then, in a disciplined way, take out things,” he said. “As unbelievable as some of these stories are, there are a lot of things that I took out that were even more shocking.”
Wilson notes that sharing personal stories about his family was the most challenging part of writing.
“I love my mother and father, but I didn’t portray them in a glowing light all the time. I was brutally honest,” he said. “To talk about your parents in a way that is not positive is hard.
“It was easier because they’re no longer with us,” he continued. “It was hard talking about my sister because she still lives, and I wanted to be sensitive to her feelings.”
Wilson said that the whole process has revealed how much he enjoys writing. He is now planning a second book on issues facing higher education, including board governance, shared governance and tenure.
He is donating royalties from The Plum Tree Blossoms Even in Winter to Wayne State in support of university priorities.