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Baltimore author and Notre Dame of Maryland University graduate Sheri Booker ’04 has been awarded an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work from a Debut Author for her memoir, Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home.
Booker, a 2004 graduate of Notre Dame who teaches at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, accepted the award during a ceremony on Feb. 21 prior to the Feb.22 NAACP Image Awards national telecast.
“It means the world that I can bring this award back home to Baltimore, the national headquarters of the historic NAACP,” Booker said. “I share this honor with my beloved mother who passed just weeks ago. I’m also thrilled that my wonderful students at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women have the opportunity to witness the limitless opportunities that come with hard work, discipline and perseverance.”
Booker earned a political science degree from Notre Dame of Maryland University in North Baltimore. One of her professors, Dr. Susan Barber, who chairs the history/political science department, said, “I am delighted for Sheri; but I’m not really surprised. Sheri’s talent was quite evident when she was in my Women’s Studies course. She electrified the audience at the women’s prison when she recited her poetry for them.”
Booker’s book is based on her experiences working at a funeral home in West Baltimore beginning at age 15. She didn’t know her summer job would become nine years of immersion in a hidden world. Grieving from the death of her beloved great aunt, she found the funeral home to be a place of comfort.
The funeral home was never short on business, with AIDS and gang violence threatening to wipe out a generation of black men in the city. As families came together to bury their loved ones, Booker was there to witness their most intimate moments of grief and despair. But along with the sadness, Booker encountered moments of dark humor: brawls between mistresses and widows, car crashes at McDonald’s with dead bodies in tow. While she never got over her terror of the embalming room, Booker learned to expect the unexpected and to never, ever cry.
This vibrant tour of a macabre world reveals an urban funeral culture where photo-screened memorial T-shirts often replace suits and ties and the dead are sent off with a joint or a fifth of cognac. Nine Years Under offer readers an unbelievable glimpse into an industry in the backdrop of all our lives.
For more information, contact John Rivera, director of university communications, at (410) 532-5546.