Literary Losses: Cheryl Burke and Taylor Siluwé

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

July 21 2011 3:55 PM ET

The LGBT literary world experienced two cancer-related losses this summer: Cheryl Burke (pictured, right) and Taylor Siluwé (left) both passed away in June.

Cheryl Burke (better known as Cheryl B.), 39, an award-winning poet and writer based in New York City, died June 18 of complications from chemotherapy treatment she had been receiving for Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June. Burke, who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s in 2010, chronicled her cancer treatment on her darkly humorous blog, the WTF Cancer Diaries.  Cheryl described the blog as her “delightfully cynical, dark humor take on diagnosis, treatment and the cantaloupe-sized tumor in my chest. WTF.”

“Cheryl’s passing is not only a personal tragedy for all of us who considered her personal friend, but also a tremendous loss to the queer literary community as a whole,” Sassafras Lowrey wrote on LambdaLiterary.org. Lowrey notes that Burke’s “performance career began in the early ‘90s at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City. After rapidly gaining acclaim for her razor-sharp wit and keen observational insight, Cheryl soon became a star on the international spoken word scene.” Her work appeared in dozens of publications, including Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution; The Guardian; Suspect Thoughts; and Pills, Thrills, Chills and Heartache: Adventures in the First Person. Burke, who cohosted Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival alongside Sinclair Sexsmith and taught memoir writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop, was named one of GO Magazine’s Top 100 Women for 2011 just before her death.

The day after Burke’s death, New Jersey writer and activist Taylor Siluwé died of lung cancer. He was 43 years old. According to LambdaLiterary.org contributor William Johnson, Siluwé was best known for his darkly erotic and humorous storytelling style. His writing has been featured in numerous publications, including Details, Venus, Literary New York, Out in Jersey, FlavaLIFE, and in anthologies such as Law of Desire and Best Gay Erotica 2008. In addition, Taylor published two sexually charged short story collections, Dancing With the Devil and Cheesy Porn ... and Other Fairy Tales. 

“Taylor’s writing reached new heights of popularity on his blog, SGL Café.com,” wrote Wiliams, “which combined a canny combination of the personal and political. Taylor’s blog served has a fiery, and often hilarious, platform for the rights of same-gender-loving men, while also providing insightful and candid asides on his personal life, popular culture and his struggle with cancer.”

Fellow writer and friend Nathan James said of Siluwé, “ [He] was one of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever known. He was one of my best friends, and a gifted writer, as well. Like me, Taylor was a passionate LGBT activist and political junkie. We used to sit up for hours and hours at his house, talking about issues of the day. Taylor’s writing was darkly provocative, exploring a different side of LGBT life.”

A memorial organized by Burke’s partner, comic Kelli Dunham, and friends is expected to draw hundreds of mourners at 3 p.m. Saturday at Dixon Place in New York City. A memorial for Siluwé was held in June.

Tags: Books

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