Sheri Booker '07
M.F.A. Creative Nonfiction
Author and Professor
"After Aunt Mary died, the ground beneath me shifted. I expected the world to pause for my grief-and it didn't, not even for a moment of silence," writes Sheri Booker in her memoir, Nine Years Under (Gotham Books, 2013). "Living in the house where Aunt Mary had died made me feel like a killer. I wanted to pour bleach on everything or set Aunt Mary's belongings on fire. ... I didn't want to erase her memory; I just wanted to rid myself of every single reminder of that moment."
With these words, Sheri Booker describes how she felt as a 15-year-old girl when a beloved aunt died. Much as she wanted to escape from death, Booker made an unusual decision that transformed her life: She applied for and accepted a job at the Albert P. Wylie Funeral Home in West Baltimore. Years later, in darkly humorous anecdotes, Booker tells all, from being hired to answer phones to picking up bodies of the deceased from homes and morgues.
By the end of her nine years there, Booker was practically running the funeral home. She was also wise in the ways of grief-and coping with loss.
By the time Booker left Wylie Funeral Home, she had graduated from the then College of Notre Dame, worked as a journalist, and was completing a master's degree in creative nonfiction at Goucher.
In 2007, footloose after completing her degree, she visited Maggie Messitt M.F.A. '07, a fellow alumna who was running the Amazwi School of Media Arts, a journalism school
for women in Limpopo, South Africa. Booker stayed for seven months, teaching women
with high school educations to write articles and find employment.
"It was important to me because women don't have much of a voice" in journalism there, she says.
After returning to Baltimore, Booker and her sister, Chanta Booker M.Ed. '04, an assistant principal for Baltimore County Public Schools, established Prodigy Youth Services Inc. The nonprofit provides workshops, mentoring, leadership training, and other services to at-risk Baltimore City youth. "I find myself ending up in these places where I'm hoping to empower young women and girls. It's my niche, my purpose," says Booker.
The author, who since 2008 has been teaching at local community colleges, at Stevenson University, and at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, also writes poetry and performs spoken word. In 2003, she published One Woman, One Hustle: Short Stories and Poetry Written on Inspiration, Identity and Love (Book Her Publishing), and in 2011, she produced an interactive, digital collection, I Am the Poem (Vook). Last year, her memoir, Nine Years Under, won an NAACP Image Award, given to outstanding people of color in film, television, music, and literature. "When I look at my life, it's all been about serving the people of Baltimore. I was able to serve at the funeral home, and now I'm serving them in a different capacity," she says and adds that her days with the deceased might not be entirely over. "If I'm not rich by 30, my backup plan is to open my own funeral home."
—Julie Steinbacher ’10