Funeral Diva is the Winner of the Lambda Award for Lesbian Poetry!
A poetic memoir about coming-of-age in the AIDS era, and its effects on life and art.
"Sneed is an acclaimed reader of her own poetry, and the book has the feeling of live performance. . . . Its strength is in its abundance, its desire for language to stir body as well as mind."—Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Book Review
"She is a writer for the future, in that she defies genre."—Hilton Als
"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
"There's an eerie sense of timeliness to this book, which features prose and poetry by the writer and teacher Pamela Sneed and is largely — though not entirely — about mourning Black gay men killed too soon by a deadly virus."—Tomi Obaro, Buzzfeed
"OH MY GOODNESS, it was amazing. I was in tears by the end. What starts off as beautiful memoir evolves into incredibly moving poetry, painful and sweet and lovely."—Marie Cloutier, Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
"Balancing and mixing, with rhyme and reason, love and anger, good and bad, memory and the created present, all to tell the story of a life, a memoir unrestrained, devoid of artificial forms. Honest. Free."—Anjanette Delgado, New York Journal of Books
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.
"Riveting, personal, open-hearted, risky and wise."—Sarah Schulman, author of Conflict Is Not Abuse
" . . . a tour de force about the collision between a coalescing 1980s 'Black lesbian and gay literary and poetic movement' in New York and the onslaught of AIDS."—Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Pamela Sneed's Funeral Diva is deft, defiant, and devastating."—Tommy Pico, author of Feed
"Funeral Diva is urgent and necessary reading to live by. This is writing at its finest. 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. 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
Praise for Funeral Diva:
"An absorbing and inherently engaging read from first page to last, Funeral Diva is one of those collections of thoughtful introspection and observation that will linger in the mind and"In closing, just in general, thank you for all your years of art and activism. I think the first time I saw you was in the '90s, on the PBS show In the Life, and I think that you might have even used the phrase 'funeral diva' on that show. I have a weird memory. But I remember seeing you on one of those episodes when I was probably in my late teens/early ’20s, in Ohio. And I think that your work and the work of a lot of folks that you write about in Funeral Diva is important. It helped make me. So I just want to say thank you for your work over all those years. And the work that you continue to do for us. Thank you."—Kenyon Farrow,The Body
"An absorbing and inherently engaging read from first page to last, Funeral Diva is one of those collections of thoughtful introspection and observation that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Also readily available for personal reading lists in a digital book format, Funeral Diva is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library LBGTQ collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists."—Midwest Book Review
"Sneed's reflections provoke awareness of just how impactful our lives are upon each other, while also implicitly embracing poetry's central role in her life. . . . Funeral Diva: sure it's about Pamela Sneed, but the writing is for us all."—Patrick James Dunagan, Rain Taxi Review of Books
"Funeral Diva grieves both the end and the continuation of the ills of the 1980s as well as the entangled persistence of pandemics. Sneed grieves the lives lost to HIV/AIDS and, now, to COVID-19."—Tiana Reid, Poetry Magazine
"Funeral Diva is the tome for our awakening and for our survival."—Erica Cardwell, writer, critic, and educator
"The memoirlike latest from poet, performer, and visual artist Sneed evokes a queer and Black coming-of-age story and its wider cultural resonance. Vividly capturing an array of formative relationships with friends, lovers, and family from the late 1980s and early ’90s, Sneed’s recalled experiences take the reader from the Boston suburbs and AIDS pandemic-era New York to Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. Essays such as ‘History' and ‘Ila,' reminiscent of writing by Hilton Als and influenced by Audre Lorde, cross-pollinate with poetic considerations of the present. Frequently, Sneed’s tone is affectingly elegiac: 'And all those gay boys I met and worked with at a restaurant in Boston,/ who disappeared like thousands of bits of paper,/ wind just simply took' Yet just as often, this voice can be wry and lacerating: 'This is some high-wire sawed-in-half lady shit/ This is like some Hannah Arendt the banality of evil and/ the bureaucratization of homicide shit.' Sneed’s speakers welcome complexity in poems like ‘Bey’ ('I have to say I envy Beyoncé/ That she gets to show up after the fact in New Orleans') and ‘Survivor,' which traces the speaker’s uneasy feelings about daredevil swimmer Diana Nyad. In this book, bracing honesty reveals both the necessity and the costs of resilience."—Publishers Weekly
"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, After Silence: A History of AIDS Through its Images
"In form-bending poems, Sneed creates her own system of time and meaning in order to chronicle the past, to tell us the news, to save her own and others' lives."—Rachel Levitsky, Women’s Review of Books
"Opening with a couple of personal essays before moving into her poetic voice, Funeral Diva (City Lights Books, 2020) by Pamela Sneed movingly expresses her experience of her 1980s, NYC coming of age, including the effect of AIDS on the black queer community, as well as issues encompassing police brutality, queer rights, and the through line to the current COVID-19 pandemic."—Gregg Shapiro, Baltimore OutLoud
"These compositions are necessary to the very soul of art itself. Gratitude to the author. All of us should read and thank this poet repeatedly."—Gregg Bordowitz, author of General Idea: Imagevirus (The AIDS Project)