“Why are we so afraid to have conversations about death? It’s the only thing promised in life but no one wants to discuss it,” Sheri Booker says, as we talk about her book “Nine Years Under,” released in paperback in July. Ms. Booker is as charming in person as she is on the page. I couldn’t help but think of Shirley Temple, had she grown up in Baltimore, ironed out her hair and worked at Wylie Funeral Home handling some of the city’s worst-case-scenario deaths: bullet wounds, abandoned old folks, AIDS and everyone in between.
What did Mr. Wylie and his son, Brandon, think about you writing this book?
We haven’t had a discussion about it since it was published, but they were nervous beforehand. Imagine working very closely with someone for nine years and they know every single thing about you, even how much money is in your bank account. You’d be uncomfortable.
Yes, but everything you say about them is good. Is Brandon still hot?
Yes. But I think he’s scared of me. We go to the same church, but we keep missing each other.
Has your relationship with death changed over time?
I thought I was an expert on death when I wrote this book. Then I realized maybe some of the things that I had rationalized before didn’t make sense to me anymore. Like, you always look at death and say, ‘There’s a reason for this.’ But then my mother passed away and I asked, ‘Why? Why this moment? Why this day?’
Would you ever want to work in the funeral business again?
Yes. I want to own my own funeral parlor. Women aren’t well represented in this business and it’s important to me to break those barriers. This has always been my plan B, if I wasn’t rich by 35.
You may be rich by 35 if you keep writing the way you are. Are you working on another book?
When I left the funeral business, I ran away to South Africa for almost a year. I want to write about that experience. I ended up in a town where I was the only black person; I was considered ‘colored.’ Think “Eat, Pray Love,” the black version in South Africa.
Join authors Sheri Booker and Jessica Anya Blau for a literary chat (hosted by STYLE contributor Marion Winik) on Friday, Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. in the Ivy Bookshop tent at the Baltimore Book Festival theivybookshop.com