Author Interview: Deesha Philyaw

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. We spoke with author Deesha Philyaw about the inspiration for The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, releasing a book during a pandemic, and more!

“These are stories about Black women that haven’t been told with this level of depth, wit, or insight before…”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

I didn’t set out to write a collection of stories about Black women, sex, and the Black church. My impulse toward fiction has always been driven by my interest in dissatisfied women; Black church women are a subset of those women. Nostalgia and memory are also big factors in my writing, and I draw on my upbringing in the church, in the South.

I was sent to church throughout my childhood by the women who raised me, my mother and my grandmother, who didn’t go to church themselves. So I’ve always had a deep curiosity about what it meant to be a woman, inside and outside of the church.

In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

The narrator of my book, Janina Edwards, reads the voices of my characters just as I heard them in my head. When I listened to her audition clip, I gasped and said, “She’s perfect!”

Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?

I’m struck by and deeply appreciative of how Janina captured the rich Southernness of my characters’ voices. And that was very important to me, that authenticity.

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

Kiese Laymon’s Heavy, Jesmyn Ward’s Where the Line Bleeds, and Ernessa T. Carter’s 32 Candles are some of my favorites.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

I released a book during a pandemic, and independent bookstores saved the day! From hosting many of my virtual book tour events to hand-delivering boxes of books for me to sign at home to tirelessly championing my book across social media, these folks have been true friends and partners. I’m so grateful for their support.

Header photo by Vanessa German

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