Working at a funeral home is not easy. And that’s one thing you’ll find out about Sheri Booker, a Baltimore teacher who shared her nine-year story of working at one in a recently published memoir. Her book, Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home won an NAACP Image Award for outstanding literary work from a debut author earlier this year; she was nominated among the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou. In her interview with BAUCE, Booker shares writing tips, what it was like to spend her youth surrounded by death, and how her journey out of that world transformed her.
BAUCE: What did you think you were going to do when you were younger? Did you always want to be a writer?
Booker: I always thought that I would be a lawyer or politician. But when I think about it, I was always writing. I was editor of the school newspaper in elementary school and a reporter in middle school. I was also in the journalism club in high school, but I absolutely hated ENGLISH. And I’ve always written poetry since childhood. I never imagined I would be a writer. I thought I’d be a funeral director before I’d ever become a writer…
BAUCE: How did you end up working at the Wylie Funeral Home in Baltimore at the age of 15? What prompted you to start writing about the time you spent there?
Booker: After the death of my Aunt Mary, who was an important part of my life, I was offered the opportunity to work at the funeral home that buried her. Mr. Wylie, the owner, was a member of my church and family friend. I worked there through high school, college, and after I graduated college I started working there full time, so it ended up being nine years. It was only supposed to be a summer job but I got caught up in this world and I was very intrigued about what went on.
I had so many unbelievable tales that I loved to tell over and over again. Everyone that I encountered told me I should write a book about my experiences. So I did!
BAUCE: What do you believe is the most important element of a memoir? Its tone? Its descriptions?
Booker: The most important element of a memoir is truth. A memoirist must first be honest with themselves and mature enough to write about their personal lives. It entails a great deal of transparency, honesty, raw emotion, and detail and reliving moments so that the reader relives them with you. You have to distance and perspective.
BAUCE: How do you deal with writer’s block? How do you get out of funks on the days that you just don’t feel like writing?
Booker: I deal with writers block by going to my initial source of inspiration. If that means going to sit in front of the funeral home or inside of the funeral home I will. I’m always searching for solitude to tune into my inner voice. I like to reflect. Sometimes I will just write poetry or journal until my mind travels back to the page where I need to be. Sometimes I have to step away from a project and do something else then go back to it.
When I’m in a funk I always find a place to the water to go and write. It makes me feel closer to God.
BAUCE: What was the biggest lesson you learned from “coming of age” in an inner city like West Baltimore?
Booker: Being exposed to the death business in West Business, I learned the value of life.
BAUCE: What is your advice for other young women who want to write a book but don’t know where to start? What tips can you share?
Booker: The most important thing to do is read. Find books that are similar to what you’d like to write. I think young writers have to just write. Begin where it all makes sense. Don’t be afraid of what it looks like on the page. You can hire an editor to fix it.
BAUCE: Can you share what a day in Sheri Booker’s life looks like? How do you find time to balance teaching and writing?
Booker: So a day for me starts at 6 am. I mentally prepare myself for class because no two days are the same. My students inspire me and they give me the energy to write. I teach all day and then I oversee the After-school programs. After school, I might have a book signing or speaking engagement or some kind of interview. When I finally go home I cook, read, or hang out with friends, but in my quiet time I just write.
BAUCE: Did you ever expect to receive a NAACP Image award for your writing? How did it feel?
Booker: I was just honored to be nominated for such a prestigious award. The nomination were announced on the same day that my mother passed away. So it was bittersweet. But bringing the award back to my city meant the world to me.
BAUCE: You are amazingly talented and have accomplished so much already. What are your next big plans? Do you have another book in the works?
Booker: Prayerfully, you’ll be seeing NINE YEARS UNDER on your tv screens pretty soon. I also plan to write a young adult novel this summer loosely based on my current teaching position. Stay tuned. I just want to inspire women all over the world to tell their stories. That’s it. That’s my big dream. I aspire to inspire.
BAUCE: BAUCE women are women that are fly, fierce, and on their grind. What “BAUCE” advice would you like to give to young women who may be reading this post?
Booker: Find your voice. Tell your own story. No matter how dark your experiences may be, sharing them may bring light to others. As women, we have to remember to uplift, and encourage and support each other. That was whole point of writing my book to give a voice and perspective of the role of women in this funeral industry. I teach my students at the all girls charter school in Baltimore that they have the right to tell their story. It’s theirs. They own it. They just have to find the right platform to do so.
You can snag a copy of Sheri Booker’s memoir and connect with the award-winning author here.
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