THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and the 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction.

Available through West Virginia University Press

The nine stories in THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES  feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions.

With their secret longings, new love, and forbidden affairs, these church ladies are as seductive as they want to be, as vulnerable as they need to be, as unfaithful and unrepentant as they care to be, and as free as they deserve to be.

What others are saying about SECRET LIVES of CHURCH LADIES

“To encounter Deesha Philyaw’s work is to encounter contemporary folktales. They are the stories of southern customs and mores and of voices over the back fence. The daughters and granddaughters of Toni Cade Bambara and Bebe Moore Campbell readers need this book.”

– Yona Harvey
author of Hemming the Water
writer for the Marvel Comics World of Wakanda series

“Our new decade deserves a new literary force with major literary skills. Deesha Philyaw uses the comic, the allegorical, and the geographic to examine black intimacies and black secrets. Her work is as rigorous as it is pleasurable to read.”

– Kiese Laymon
author of HEAVY

"Marks the emergence of a bona fide literary treasure."

— Marion Winik, The Star Tribune

.:  events  :.

Story Studio (Facebook Live)

Story Studio (Facebook Live)

StoryStudio Chicago Pajama Seminar: Sex, Lies, and Writing the Truth
Wednesday, June 2, 2021 | 8-10 PM ET
Facebook Live

Oberlin (live & in person)

Oberlin (live & in person)

Oberlin
June 14 & 15, 2021

White Whale Reading (virtual)

White Whale Reading (virtual)

WVU / White Whale Reading
Wednesday, June 16, 2021 | 7 PM ET

For inquiries regarding Deesha’s forthcoming books, please contact Deesha’s Mariner publicist
Eliza Rosenberry at eliza.rosenberry@harpercollins.com.

* *

For inquiries regarding film/TV rights, please contact
Becca Rodriguez at becca@thisiscurate.com
.

* *

For inquiries regarding The Secret Lives of Church Ladies,
please contact Deesha’s WVU Press publicist
Jeremy Wang-Iverson at jeremy@vestopr.com
.

* *

For speaking engagements,  please contact
Anya Backlund at anya@blueflowerarts.com.

* *

For all other inquiries, please contact
Danielle Chiotti at danielle@upstartcrowliterary.com.

.:  Speaking / Reading Topics  :.

  • First, Do No Harm: Writing About Journeys Not Your Own
  • Good Girls Don’t. Black Girls Will: Black Women, Sex and the Black Church
  • Ain’t I a Mommy?: Narratives of Motherhood and Race
  • The Mythical Sisterhood of Black and White Women … and 10 Ways to Move Forward
  • The Patchwork Quilt Writing Career: How Not to be a Starving Artist
  • Choosing You, Telling the Truth: Encouragement for Women in Transition
  • Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive After Divorce
  • Co-Parenting a Child Who is Adopted
  • Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Birth Mom?
  • Supporting Your Child’s Interest in Her Origins

    Book Deesha through her CCMNT Speakers listing.

.:  Interactive Workshop Topics Include  :.

  • Choosing You, Telling the Truth: A Writing Workshop for Women in Transition
  • Let’s Write About Sex, Baby
  • Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive After Divorce
  • Co-Parenting a Child Who is Adopted
  • Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Birth Mom?: Supporting Your Child’s Interest in Her Origins
  • Write Your D*mned Book Proposal Already!
  • From Idea to Publication: Starting & Sustaining Your Book Project
  • How to Pitch for Publication
  • How to Land an Agent

.:  One-on-One Consultations Include  :.

  • Write Your D*mned Book Proposal Already!
  • From Idea to Publication: Starting & Sustaining Your Book Project
  • How to Pitch for Publication
  • How to Land an Agent

.:  about  :.

Deesha Philyaw, photo by Vanessa German

Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and the 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church, and is being adapted for television by HBO Max with Tessa Thompson executive producing. Deesha is also a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and a Baldwin for the Arts Fellow.

Her debut novel, The True Confessions of First Lady Freeman, is forthcoming from Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, in 2025.
 

Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and the 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church, and is being adapted for television by HBO Max with Tessa Thompson executive producing. Deesha is also a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and the 2022-2023 John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi.

.:  featured work  :.

I DON’T MEAN TO BE A BOTHER, BABY. You know I don’t. But when are you gonna refill that shot glass? I mean, if you’re going to go through the trouble of putting whisky on your altar for me, at least keep the cup full. My cup doesn’t runneth over. Not even this itty bitty shot glass. At least let my tiny cup runneth over and not sit empty for your-months1 at a time, with a dirty brown grit at the bottom.

Does Love exist?

Is fat meat greasy? Cuz ain’t no way I could’ve fallen so hard, so fast, so far, by myself.

Rewind that.

I didn’t fall in love. Like Toni Morrison said, I rose in it. If only for one night. I levitated for that brother with the high-top fade, tired eyes, and pretty smile. That first night, we worked it out, strangers on the club floor. Some Bobby Brown, some Chubb Rock, a little Jody Watley, the chaos and black steel of Public Enemy, and then Miss Jackson (cuz I’m nasty and he is too). We grinded, we Reeboked, and we Cabbage Patched until sweat plastered my hair to my face, plastered his shirt to his back. When he pulled me close and murmured, “Can you stand the rain, ma?” in my ear, I didn’t even mind his wet cheek on mine. My panties went damp, too. It was a wrap. You know how it is. And then back to life, back to reality. Lights up. You ain’t gotta go home, but you got to get the hell outta here.

Where shall we worship?

In his car, in the park, in his room when his mama was at work, on the stoop, always, always, in the shadows.

Despite his absence and his negligence, or perhaps because of them, my earliest memory is of my father. We are at the house where I live with my mother and my grandmother. This is the only time I remember him being inside our house in the eighteen years I lived there. In this memory, I’m a toddler, not yet potty trained. I know this because my mother has called my father to come and force me to sit on the potty.

My father arrives, and he is angry and threatens to spank me. I don’t want him to spank me or to be angry with me. I want him to love me. Somehow, I already understand that his love is tenuous. So I sit on the potty. When he begins to leave, I notice that wrestling (the fake kind) is on TV. I recall seeing my father, grandfather, and uncles watching wrestling during the occasional weekends I spend at my grandparents’ house, the house where my father lives with his parents and siblings — or rather, the place where he gets his mail and changes his clothes once or twice a week. Because I know my father likes wrestling, I try to point out that wrestling is on the TV: to get in his good graces, to put the whole potty thing behind us. But either I don’t have the words to tell him, or he’s ignoring me. I am not yet toilet-trained, but already I’m trying to figure out how to make my father stay.

There’s a joke I used to tell about the time my then-fiancé, Mike, gave me crabs. Brought me crabs is more specific, but the clarification ruins the joke. He brought me a dozen live blue crabs in hopes of relieving my stress in the midst of grad-school finals. Mike knew that seafood is my favorite food, that crab is my favorite seafood, and that some of my fondest memories of growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, were of crab boils with family and friends. Whenever he visited me in Jacksonville, we’d sit in the backyard for hours with my mother, my grandmother, and whoever else was invited, eating dozens of crabs, corn on the cob, and potatoes. On that spring afternoon in Stamford, he bought the crabs to give me a taste of home, a thousand miles away. Mike and I met at Yale, both first-generation college students. On my eighteenth birthday, we went on our first date. I can’t say that we were still going strong five years later, but we were still going. Engaged to be married that summer of ’94. Then, after twelve years of marriage—for reasons we would sort out, separately, in therapy—we divorced. Suffice it to say, we were incompatible, too young, too wounded.

See more of Deesha’s work through Contently.

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