MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A short collection of stories written by Deesha Philyaw has been long-listed for the National Book Award in fiction, which is considered the most prestigious prize in American publishing.
“The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” focuses on black women, sex, and the black church, according to the author who added that it’s about how the church’s teachings and human desires and needs collide. It’s one of 10 books that have the chance to win this year and the winner will be announced Nov. 18. It was published by WVU Press and Philyaw said she is elated to be recognized on a national scale.
“The word I’ve been using lately is soaring — like it’s just — happy doesn’t capture it,” Philyaw said. “I need a bigger fuller word, so soaring, like I’m really beyond, beyond thrilled. I’m grateful.”
Philyaw said she is most grateful for the folks at WVU press because they played a huge role in getting her book out into the world.
WVU Press thought it was a meaningful body of work, and there was an interest in her voice as a writer and the voices represented in her story, Philyaw said. Not only that, the editorial process was built on trust. They respected and recognized her authority on the characters she wrote about, as well as black culture.
In a press release, the Director of WVU Press Derek Krissoff praised Philyaw’s success.
“My colleagues and I are extraordinarily proud of Deesha’s book, and we’re thrilled to see it among the ten candidates for the award recognizing the year’s best work of fiction,” Krissoff said. “That we’re able to help project our home university’s name and reputation in such a prominent way, despite being a tiny publisher with a full-time staff of just four, is especially gratifying.”
All of this success comes although Philyaw’s book is different than what WVU Press usually publishes and that this was her first attempt at fiction. For taking that risk on her, Philyaw said she is “super appreciative.”
“I am very thankful that not only were they willing to invest in me and then the book but that the editorial relationship was so collaborative and amiable,” Philyaw said. “And the result is a fantastic collection, I mean my book is definitely better for having worked with Sara Georgi who was my editor at WVU press.”
Right now, Philyaw said, her book is not only seeing critical success but also a commercial success as well. She said to her knowledge, her book is being taught in at least one university.
In an era marked by protests calling for justice for the deaths of black people at the hands of the police and calls for the affirmation that black lives matter, Philyaw said she is grateful for the chance to add to the stories of African Americans.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to add my voice to that chorus of so many wonderful black storytellers who are committed to telling the truth,” Philyaw said. “While our hearts are just daily being broken that we can find some respite in our stories, that we can shout in our stories, that we can cry in our stories, that we can celebrate and confirm that our lives do matter through our stories.”