The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deeshaw Philyaw is a short story collection spanning the experiences of Black women from different ages, time periods, and generations. We get an intimate look at the women’s relationship to God, their church communities, and how religion was used as a weapon formed against them, but nevertheless, they did what they had to do to survive.
Some of the dominant themes throughout the short stories were Black women’s sexuality, whether that was loving women or reclaiming their bodies for their own pleasure, relationships with mothers, and trying to find sweetness in a world where we are bred to be hard. Black women from different backgrounds will connect to many of these voices and experiences.
I was deeply moved by each one of these stories. I personally have experienced harm from growing up in church life, as well as seen how it has harmed others. I am, just like many of the women and girls in these short stories, have worked to unlearn the harmful messages of endurance that Black women internalize to find the God within me.
Some of my favorite stories from the collection are Eula, Preach Cobbler, and How to Make Love to a Physicist. For me, these stories embodied things like the difficulty of being yourself, accepting the crumbs life gives you because you think this is all you deserve, and finding ways to come home to your body.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, especially Black women, with church harm looking to come home to themselves. The writing is phenomenal, and the motifs are excellent. It is a quick read for those looking to venture into African American literary fiction (or for those who already enjoy it)!