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Arts & Culture

‘Funeral Diva’ Pamela Sneed says ‘We can heal’

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Patricia Silva
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Pamela Sneed’s prose and poetry can reach out and grab you. They did me. She reads four poems from her new memoir, Funeral Diva, on this week’s Out in the Bay and shares some of her life story. Funeral Diva, published by San Francisco’s City Lights, is a powerful collection of poems and prose described as a “coming of age in New York City during the late 1980s.” It chronicles Sneed’s life as a proud Black lesbian and the impact of the AIDS pandemic on Black queer life. It’s also a courageous commentary about today’s COVID pandemic, divisive politics and pervasive social inequities.

Sneed takes us to Ghana slave ports and the streets of New York, tackling an array of heavy topics, including the history of slavery, millennial gentrification and health care disparities. Her poem “A Tale of Two Pandemics” starts:

The headline in yesterday’s news blared, ‘A Tale of Two Pandemics, Shocking Inequities in the Healthcare System’ What got me was use of words 'shocking' and 'two'

Yet in “Why I Cling to Flowers,” she ends Funeral Diva on a hopeful note. After describing in glorious detail the beauty of flowers, then the mounting deaths, her last five lines are:

… If we can survive, have equipment means money, support conditions, There are also other possibilities, We can heal.

Pamela Sneed is a New York-based poet, writer, performer and visual artist, and author of Funeral Diva, published by City Lights in October 2020, as well as Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom than SlaveryKONG and Other WorksSweet Dreams and two chaplets: Gift by Belladonna and Black Panther. Her work is included in Nikki Giovanni’s The 100 Best African American Poems and she was nominated for two PushCart Prizes in poetry in 2018.

Photo of Pamela Sneed by Patricia Silva

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