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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 (wtfcancerdiaries.com). 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