A rare authentic glimpse into the electrifying arts scene of New York City’s East Village during the vibrant 1990s, My Awesome Place is the chronicle of a movement through the eyes of one young woman working to cultivate her voice while making peace with her difficult, often abusive, family.
An unlikely story for someone whose guidance counselor recommended a career as a toll taker on the New Jersey Turnpike, Burke was determined to escape her circumstances by any means available–physical, intellectual or psychotropic. Her rise to prominence as the spoken word artist known as Cheryl B brought with it a series of desctructive girlfriends and boyfriends and a dependence on drugs and alcohol that would take nearly a decade to shake.
In the months following her death, members of Burke’s close-knit writing group, who had met continuously for nine years, worked to compile her drafts, essays and emails into a completed manuscript which was eventually synthesized into its final form by Burke’s close friend, novelist Sarah Schulman. This autobiography tracks her struggle to transcend her working class New Jersey roots and define herself as an artist against the backdrop of an unforgiving city, a series of disastrous girlfriends and boyfriends, and an intense, intimate relationship with drugs and alcohol. By the time Burke got sober in 2001, she had witnessed–and made major contributions to– one of the most remarkable artistic transformations that New York City has ever experienced.
“MY AWESOME PLACE is a harsh, funny, totally real look at being a girl – a broke girl, a fat girl, a queer girl, a writer girl – and the struggle to escape your family and your lot in life. Cheryl B was brave and tender in her writing and her life, and reading her memoir is like meeting your new best friend.”
Michelle Tea, author of Valencia and Rose of No Man’s Land
“MY AWESOME PLACE is just that. The wit and clarity of observation in Cheryl B’s work makes the stories so present and tangible that for a moment it’s like having Cheryl back with us. We all owe her friends and colleagues immeasurable gratitude for compiling this important work posthumously. I can hear her voice again.”
Joshua Kilmer-Purcell, author of I Am Not Myself These Days
“Cheryl B. found her way to MY AWESOME PLACE through a haze of drugs and alcohol — ways she used to cope as she grew up, alienated from a family that didn’t know (or want to know) her, as a person, an artist, a gay woman. By the time I met her, she’d become a brave and powerful, accomplished artist. When I read the story of her journey from the suburbs of New Jersey through downtown New York City in the ’90s, to the end of the century, I was glad she’d had the chance to write it down, and that her community loved her so much, they made sure her story was told.”
Kaylie Jones, author of Lies My Mother Never Told Me
“Cheryl B’s sparky prose, and smart sarcasm will pull you in first. Then if you’re anything like me you’ll fall a little bit in love with her dark wit. Ultimately MY AWESOME PLACE is about how it does in fact get better, but for brainy, queers like Cheryl it never gets less complicated.”
Diana Cage, author of Mind-Blowing Sex, host of The Diana Cage Show on Sirius XM
About the author
Cheryl Burke (1972-2011) was a journalist, poet, performer and playwright who came of age in the vibrant 1990s East Village art scene. Her performances at the Nuyorican Poets Café, Bowery Poetry Club, the National Arts Club, P.S. 122, St. Marks Poetry Project established Burke as a young luminary and during her career she performed at venues throughout the US and abroad. Her work was published in Ping Pong, BUST, KGB Bar Lit, Go Magazine, Velvet Park, a dozens of other journals and magazines, and anthologized in Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press, 2007), Reactions 5 (Pen & Inc, 2005), The Milk of Almonds: Italian-American Women Writers on Food & Culture (Feminist Press, 2002), The World in Us (St. Martins Press, 2000), Pills, Thrills, Chills and Heartache (Alyson Books, 2004), His Hands, His Tools, His Sex, His Dress (Haworth Press, 2001), among others. Burke was a graduate of both New York University and The New School. She passed away at the age of 38 from complications related to treatment of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My Awesome Place is her first book.