Pittsburgh’s People of the Year 2020: Literature | Pittsburgh’s People of the Year | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh’s People of the Year 2020: Literature

Deesha Philyaw's The Secret Lives of Church Ladies has received critical acclaim

click to enlarge Pittsburgh writer Deesha Philyaw - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Pittsburgh writer Deesha Philyaw
In March, local author Deesha Philyaw moderated a visit by civil rights activist Tarana Burke at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, right before the pandemic closed everything down. Just one month before that, she was celebrating the official book release of TENDER, an anthology she published with local poet and artist vanessa german, composed of their work and 17 other Black women writers and visual artists. But the pandemic didn’t stop her from an even bigger project. Philyaw says her debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, came about when a novel she had been working on stalled. Her agent suggested focusing instead on turning a bunch of “church lady stories” Philyaw had been writing into a collection. The move paid off. Since its release in September, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies has received critical acclaim and was nominated as a 2020 National Book Award finalist. Philyaw hopes the book speaks to Black women who have “felt burdened and restrained by the church's teaching,” and inspires readers to interrogate “the false binaries (good vs. bad, holy vs. whore) we learn from the church and the larger culture.” As for the future? “I'm going to finally finish that novel,” says Philyaw. “And I can share that Hollywood has come calling regarding adaptation, so stay tuned!”

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