A posthumously published autobiography from New York-based poet, journalist, performer and playwright Burke (known professionally as Cheryl B), who died last year at age 38.
The author first became well-known as part of the New York spoken-word performance scene of the 1990s, and she remained a vital voice in the downtown literary world, contributing to many magazines and journals such as Bust and Go Magazine, as well as several anthologies. After her death in 2011, her partner, Kelli Dunham, and members of Burke’s writing group helped put together Burke's working draft of her autobiography. Born in 1972 and raised in New Jersey, Burke had a difficult childhood, dealing with obesity and her psychologically and, in her father’s case, physically abusive parents. Her escape to New York to attend NYU allowed her to blossom into an artist—reading poetry onstage helped her access her “awesome place”—but her new freedom came with other problems, including drug abuse, a series of unhealthy relationships with women and men, and later, a severe alcohol problem. Burke eventually got sober and regained a handle on her life. In a touching afterword, Dunham describes Burke finally finding stability in a relationship, only to be blindsided by a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma in 2010. A rare and unchecked complication of her treatment irreversibly damaged her lungs, leading to her death the following year. While this memoir gives readers a rounded picture of Burke’s emotional life, as well as a nuanced portrait of her dysfunctional family, her art gets relatively short shrift. Barely any of her poetry appears in the text, and she writes almost nothing about her creative process or her views on her own art or that of others.
Bracingly honest and insightful throughout, particularly about family relationships and what it felt like to be young in NYC in the ’90s.