Sheri Booker is a teacher in Baltimore, spoken word artist, poet, public speaker, and author. Her latest publication, a memoir titled, "NINE YEARS UNDER: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home" won a NAACP Image Award and the platform she uses to inspire young people to follow their dreams in the truest way possible.
"Youth can be a great asset. When you're young, if you have what is called a 'crazy' dream, no one is going to question it," she says. "Instead, if you are sincere and willing to do the work that prepares the way for your journey, others will often be inspired by you and partner with you to help you achieve your dreams."
Sheri's message to millennials is quite inspiring. "The first step? Get that feeling that you can do it deep down in your soul," she says. "Step two? Just jump in!
During our Q&A session, Sheri spoke about finding love, life after becoming a nationally recognized writer, her goals and so much more.
Your memoir, "NINE YEARS UNDER: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home" earned you a NAACP Image Award and national recognition. Has your success caused you to feel pressured while choosing new projects?
It's a blessing to have choices. The pressure comes when you can't choose a project. Since publishing NINE YEARS UNDER, I've matured as a writer. I think I've become a little more resilient. My voice is different. I've grown.
How has your life changed since releasing NINE YEARS UNDER?
Everything is happening so fast. My schedule has been so hectic. I travel a lot to speak at different places all over the country. I've been given so many opportunities and been able to connect with so many amazing people. My book is actually required reading at some universities, which is something I never fathomed.
What project(s) are you working on now?
I'm actually working on two new books. One is a memoir and the other is a young adult fiction novel, loosely based on an all-girls school in Baltimore.
In Nine Years Under and your earlier works of poetry, you write with a clear purpose of uplifting young women. Who were you inspired by during your younger years?
Growing up, I had a lot of strong women in my life. Everyone loved my mother, and I was able to reap the benefits of that. I had superintendents of schools, businesswomen, and lawyers, take me under their wing and guide me. I saw real examples of powerful women and they told me I could be greater than them. In fact, they challenged me to be better than them. It was a lot of pressure, but I'm grateful for it.
What is the best piece of career advice you've received?
Mr. Wylie, my boss at the funeral home, always said, "You only get one chance at funeral service." and I've taken that piece of advice into all of the areas of my life. What he meant was that you only get one chance to seal the deal. That what someone sees at first glance is what they will always remember. That has challenged me to always put my best foot forward, even when no one is watching.
What is the hardest lesson you've had to learn in your career?
The hardest lesson that I learned is that "rejection is protection". Rejection never feels good, but as artists I think we tend to take rejection so personally. It can cause us to doubt our work or talent. However, rejection isn't always someone saying we don't like your work or you're not talented. Sometimes it's someone else recognizing that they can't give you what you need to fly. It's a venue saying this is not quite the right fit for you right now. That doesn't mean that you won't find home for your work. That doesn't mean that venue won't come looking for you one day. It means you have to keep working hard until you find the perfect fit and when the time is right it will work itself out.
Many people have similar goals and talents, but everyone doesn't get to see their dreams come true. What do you think set you apart from the others and allowed your voice to be heard?
Writing takes discipline. I have to be honest, that is probably my biggest struggle; but it's also the reason I have been successful. Everyone has a book inside of him or her, but everyone doesn't have the tenacity to make it happen. It's not always their fault. Sometimes life happens and keeps them from the writing. That's why it's important to set a deadline, commit and hold yourself accountable. I had to lock myself out of Facebook and Twitter and train myself to write at a certain time every night in order to complete NINE YEARS UNDER.
How have you evolved creatively since the release of your first book, One Woman, One Hustle in 2003?
It's so funny when I see One Woman, One Hustle, I cringe. Seeing my 21 year old self on the page just tickles me. I have this one poem called Love Does Not Exist, and it basically says "you can't see it, you can't touch it, you can't taste it." So love must not be real. I feel so silly every time reread it. I've definitely matured as a writer.
Do you plan to release another book of poetry?
Yes, I've found a new muse and I've been writing up a storm. He doesn't know, but I write him a poem almost every day. Sometimes we have to look for inspiration. Sometimes it just falls in our lap. Maybe love really does exist.
What thoughts do you have when you look back at your previous writings?
I love my young voice. She was brave, unapologetically honest.
If you could change anything about your writing career so far, what would it be?
I would just pick up the pace. I'm not in a rush, but I did take a long time in between publishing my books. Some very important people in my life weren't able to see NINE YEARS UNDER published.
Do you have a special creative process or ritual you follow when you write?
When I'm in the heart of a writing project, I like to feel like I'm going to work. So I typically get up and do my makeup and dress up and then I treat my project like it's the most important thing in the world. I eliminate all distractions, which is difficult since I'm addicted to Instagram. And then I write!
How do you handle writer's block?
I've learned that writer's block is typically fear disguised as procrastination. When I feel stuck, I look for the source of my inspiration. I write a letter to my fears and let my fears write me back. Then I try a change of scenery. I often look for places close to the water to write. It makes me feel closer to God.
What is your ultimate goal?
At the end of the day, I aspire to inspire. I want to inspire people to find their own voices and tell their stories. You have that right and I think sometimes people forget that. I have the opportunity to work with some really amazing young people and my greatest reward is helping them to cultivate their talent and share it with the world.
Follow Sheri on Twitter @sherijbooker.