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A poetic memoir about coming-of-age in the AIDS era, and its effects on life and art.
"She is a writer for the future, in that she defies genre."—Hilton Als
"Pamela Sneed's Funeral Diva charts the 'grieving patterns' informing a life with unflinching honesty and clarity. This notable achievement, traveling from youth to adulthood, is a harrowing account of how Sneed transforms violence and pain into an artist's life."—Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen: An American Lyric
In this collection of personal essays and poetry, acclaimed poet and performer Pamela Sneed details her coming of age in New York City during the late 1980s. Funeral Diva captures the impact of AIDS on Black Queer life, and highlights the enduring bonds between the living, the dying, and the dead. Sneed's poems not only converse with lovers past and present, but also with her literary forebears—like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde—whose aesthetic and thematic investments she renews for a contemporary American landscape.
Offering critical focus on matters from police brutality to LGBTQ+ rights, Funeral Diva confronts today's most pressing issues with acerbic wit and audacity. The collection closes with Sneed's reflections on the two pandemics of her time, AIDS and COVID-19, and the disproportionate impact of each on African American communities.
Poet, professor, and performer, Pamela Sneed is the author of Sweet Dreams, Kong, and Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom than Slavery. She was a Visiting Critic at Yale, a Visiting Professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts, and is online faculty at Chicago's School of the Art Institute teaching Human Rights and Writing Art. Her work is widely anthologized and appears in Nikki Giovanni's, The 100 Best African American Poems. She has performed at the Whitney Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Poetry Project, NYU and Pratt Universities, Smack Mellon Gallery, The High Line, Performa, Danspace, The Bessies, Performance Space, Joe's Pub, The Public Theater, SMFA, and BRIC. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Saeed Jones is an American poet whose debut collection Prelude to Bruise was named a 2014 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. His second book, a memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives won the Kirkus Prize in 2019.
Praise for Funeral Diva
"Riveting, personal, open-hearted, risky and wise. This is Pamela Sneed at the top of her gifts, firmly grounding her history into our history, enriching both, acknowledging all the legacies and losses, influences gold and ash."—Sarah Schulman, author of Conflict Is Not Abuse
"Pamela Sneed's Funeral Diva is deft, defiant, and devastating. Nothing exists in her work without history, without teaching me, as she writes, 'the power of what words can do.' Through her brilliant mind it's evident that everything is truly connected. You just have to find the string."—Tommy Pico, author of Feed
"Funeral Diva is urgent and necessary reading to live by. This is writing at its finest. Sneed poetically processes individuation, life's journey of becoming, a visionary elegy that transforms trauma and abandonment to recognition and virtuosity. Here, with perceptive awareness we are invited along the way with mysterious encounters, beloved attachments, and then the cruelties, the sorrows, and profane acts of injustices confronted and given Cassandra full due diligence. Sneed magnificently refuses to back down, and gives courageous and compassionate requiem with imagination, integrity and inspiration for humanity. Keep this book close to your heart and soul."—Karen Finley, author of Shock Treatment
"Reminiscent of Audre Lorde's Zami, Pamela Sneed's memoir is, in itself, a healing balm, affirming in its truths and honesty. Sneed takes us by the hand and leads us while she meditates on her journey from being orphaned as a baby to coming of age as a black lesbian in the 1980's, sometimes cutting corners and jay walking into deeper memories of childhood hurts and adolescent desire—the result, a syncopated rhythm with a brilliant mix of emotions and sensations and poetry to describe a period of being gay and black in the shimmering strangeness of a vibrant city on the cusp of the AIDS epidemic that claimed the lives of many. I cannot remember ever reading a book that illustrates the impact of the AIDS epidemic on our community more poignantly than Funeral Diva."—Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of Patsy
"Pamela Sneed takes enormous risks in this book. She tells the truth with fierce concentration and an abiding sense of purpose."—Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
"In her latest collection, Funeral Diva, Pamela Sneed 'articulates at a mathematical speed' her journey as a Black lesbian poet coming to terms with a new name, to her evolved consciousness as an activist in New York City in the rage and devastating loss of the HIV epidemic. Sneed delivers an immersive experience with a grief that is porous, inexplicable, urgent, and untamed. In Sneed's distinctive style of prophetic foreshadowing, Funeral Diva is the tome for our awakening and for our survival."—Erica Cardwell, writer, critic, and educator
"If you wonder what political agency feels like, read this book. If you want to know what a broken heart feels like, read this book. If you're not sure how to express political agency in spite of a broken heart, read this book."—Avram Finkelstein, author of After Silence: A History of AIDS Through its Images
"What does death take? Something or someone unacceptably absent. And how does grief exact? The costs are incalculable. Silver linings are just damn insulting. Yet, somehow Sneed qualifies loss in the perfect most appropriate forms. Not psalms, not proverbs, perhaps a hint of prophecy, but mostly through righteous lamentations. In this book, Sneed testifies with clarity, urgency, and conviction. These compositions are necessary to the very soul of art itself. The compositions are the spirit-work and mind-breath demanded by the much (and too often late) lamented—our lost loves who remain ever-present. Gratitude to the author. All of us should read and thank this poet repeatedly."—Gregg Bordowitz, author of General Idea: Imagevirus (The AIDS Project)