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Remembering Cheryl B

Remembering Cheryl B

Author: Sassafras Lowrey

June 19, 2011

On Saturday, June 18, 2011, Cheryl Burke (Cheryl B.), New York City’s award-winning poet, writer, and community treasure, died of complications from chemotherapy treatment she had been receiving for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Cheryl was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma—a cancer of the lymph tissue—in November 2010.

Born September 19, 1972, Cheryl’s performance career began in the early 90s at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City.  After rapidly gaining acclaim for her razor sharp wit and keen observational insight, Cheryl soon became a star on the internationally spoken word scene.

An accomplished writer, her work has appeared in dozens of publications including Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press, 2007), The Guardian, Suspect Thoughts, Reactions 5: New Poetry (Pen & Inc, 2005), Pills, Thrills, Chills and Heartache: Adventures in the First Person (Alyson Books). Cheryl received an honorable mention in poetry from the Astraea Writers Fund Awards in 2009, and was just named one of GO Magazine’s Top 100 Women for 2011.

Cheryl was also a brilliant literary leader and organizer. She was the creator and producer of PVC: The Poetry vs. Comedy Variety Show, a live slam/competition between stand-up comedians and performance poets that ran for over two years, and at the time of her death was the co-founder/co-host of the popular New York City monthly reading series, Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival with Sinclair Sexsmith.

Friend and author, Sarah Schulman said of her, “Cheryl gave a lot to this community in many capacities over many years. As a writer, friend, editor and most effectively as a programmer of events in which she gave voice to many artists and created community for so many of us.”

Cheryl was known for her intense, sometimes dark, and always hilarious narratives, a style she perfected in her last public writing performance the WTF Cancer Diaries blog (  Cheryl described the blog as her “delightfully cynical, dark humor take on diagnosis, treatment and the cantaloupe-sized tumor in my chest. WTF.”

Cheryl’s passing is not only a personal tragedy for all of us who considered her personal friend, but also a tremendous loss to the queer literary community as a whole. A fundraiser for her lover, Kelli Dunham, will be held at Dixon Place, in NYC on July 23, 2011.
Cheryl B @ the 22nd annual Lambda Literary Awards | Photo © Donna Aceto/Lambda Literary Foundation

Sassafras Lowrey photo

About: Sassafras Lowrey

Sassafras Lowrey is straight-edge punk who grew up to become the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Hir books—Lost Boi, A Little Queermas Carol, Roving Pack, Leather Ever After, and Kicked Out—have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Hir nonfiction book Left Out: How Marriage Equality Abandoned Homeless LGBTQ Youth is forthcoming from The New Press, and TRICKS IN THE CITY: For Daring Doggos and the Humans that Love Them is forthcoming from Mango Publishing. Sassafras' fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in numerous anthologies, literary journals, and magazines and ze facilitates writing workshops at colleges, conferences, and homeless shelters across the country. Sassafras has recently relocated from Brooklyn to Portland with hir partner, and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Learn more at

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