The Impact of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Two Years Later
From the Ursa Short Fiction Podcast with Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton
This month marked the two-year anniversary of the publication of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, author Deesha Philyaw’s groundbreaking and award-winning debut short story collection that examines the inner lives of Black women as they navigate relationships, sex, and the church.
On Episode 14 of Ursa Short Fiction, Dawnie Walton digs into the stories with her co-host Philyaw, and gets some hints on what might be in store for the characters as Philyaw and Tessa Thompson are adapting The Secret Lives of Church Ladies for HBO Max.
On the reaction she gets from readers:
Deesha Philyaw: What I’ve heard from more than one person, which I think is hilarious that multiple people have been doing this, is they will send this book to their mother or their churchiest auntie, with no explanation—none. The first thing they read is “Eula,” and so then they’ll text or call the person that gave them the book, usually another Black woman, and be like, “What is this?”
Dawnie Walton: “What you got me reading?”
Deesha Philyaw: Exactly! But they keep reading,
Dawnie Walton: Of course they do.
Deesha Philyaw: That’s the thing. I mean, I’m sure there are some people who picked this book up, started reading “Eula,” and were like, “No, hell no.” But I have three aunts, and when I did an event with the Jacksonville Public Library, they all came out and they got copies of the book, and we were in the parking lot and I said, “Listen, at some point you’re going to read that first story, do not call or text me. Text and call each other.” I tried to warn them the way others have not. If you give this book to a church lady, there should be a warning before they read “Eula.”
On thinking about her characters in the future:
Deesha Philyaw: Typically, I don’t think about them afterwards, but because of my HBO Max show, I’m thinking about them now after what happens next. We’re moving forward in time; the show is actually going to be set in the present. And so, a lot of the script that I’m writing is where are they now? And what’s happening? And what has happened since we last saw them in the book?
Deesha Philyaw’s collection 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. Philyaw is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and the 2022-2023 John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi.