Author and Baltimore teacher Sheri Booker has won the NAACP Image Award for outstanding literary work by a debut author.
Booker, a teacher at Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women and a graduate of both Notre Dame of Maryland University and Goucher College, won the award for her Baltimore-based memoir "Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home," which recounts the nine years she spent working at the Wylie Funeral Home in West Baltimore.
Booker, 31, received the award Friday, but was accepting it during a live awards show Saturday night. During a phone interview from just off the red carpet before the show, she said winning the award was "surreal."
Just to be a nominee along with people like Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou, who were up for other NAACP honors, would have been enough, she said.
"It is amazing. It's unbelievable," she said. "I'm still in shock."
Booker, who grew up in Hamilton, started working at Wylie Funeral Home at age 15, in 1997. She graduated from Notre Dame in 2004, and then from Goucher with a master's in creative nonfiction in 2007. She started writing her book at Goucher, she said.
"I just wanted to tell a great story. I wanted to be able to look at death in a different way," she said, as it is a part of everyone's life — including her own.
On Jan. 9, when she found out she was a nominee for the Image Award, her mother, Mary Booker, a school principal in Baltimore, died after a long battle with cancer. Booker said her mother may have had a hand in her win.
"It was a kind of bittersweet moment for me," she said. "My angel was working on my behalf."
Booker said she hopes the award helps her convince the young girls she works with at the leadership school "to know that they can do what they want to do."
"I wanted to bring this award back home to Baltimore, and I'm so happy I get to do that," she said.
After the awards show, she planned to celebrate at an after party, where she hoped she'd run into those other nominees.
"I'm going to try to get as close to Oprah as possible," she said with a laugh.
MK Asante, a Morgan State University professor who was nominated in the biography/auto-biography character for "Buck: A Memoir," lost to "The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks" by Jeanne Theoharis.