My Awesome Place
By Cheryl Burke
(Topside Signature, 2012)
“My Awesome Place” made me feel sad I never knew got to know Cheryl but reading her words felt like a proper introduction. Cheryl’s voice is a strong kick in the gut that keeps you listening, holding back no gory details, a voice that is as haunting as Cheryl herself. “My Awesome Place” illustrates an artist’s life, juggling the high demands of a Jersey family while establishing a career as a spoken word artist. Cheryl B. tells her story, the story of a fat Jersey girl whose alcoholic father and overbearing mother propel her into a journey into the New York 90’s slam scene. She playfully, powerfully and honestly writes about her struggles with alcohol and her sexuality, particularly when she complicates her lesbian poet persona by acquiring a boyfriend. Cheryl sums up her sexuality in the best way she knows, “85% lesbian, 15% bisexual, 100% Queer Dyke.” I’ve never heard it broken down so eloquently.
My favorite chapter was “Role Reversal”, where Cheryl goes to a family wedding with her boyfriend. She mourns her father during the daddy/daughter dance, busts her mother smoking forbidden cigarettes with her cousin in the girls bathroom and confronts the chilling fact that she will never get married. She writes this scene with humor, sincerity and courage and I couldn’t help but cry right along with her. I read Cheryl B’s book at a time where I was editing the opening scene of my novel, Indigo and Jordan’s non-traditional, gay, courthouse marriage. This chapter inspired me to write it honest and in a way that strikes the heart, like Cheryl does.
Topside Signature is an imprint of Topside Press, providing extraordinary queer and feminist literature to the world. “My Awesome Place” is their first title and they will be publishing Kelli Dunham’s “Freak of Nature” in spring 2013 and Angelina Anderson’s “Bright Like Neon” in Summer 2013.
(A fantastically, heavy handed, must read that refers to Cheryl’s book is Kelli Dunham’s new Pretty Queer article on her New Year’s slogan, Just Hit Send. Read it, then run out and buy My Awesome Place.)
Next weeks book review, Ali Leibegott’s The IHOP Papers!