The Book Cellar
*FINALIST for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction*
*WINNER of the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award*
*WINNER of the 2020 Story Prize*
*WINNER of the 2020 L.A. Times Book Prize, Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction*
“Tender, fierce, proudly black and beautiful, these stories will sneak inside you and take root.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Triumphant.” —Publishers Weekly
“Cheeky, insightful, and irresistible.” —Ms. Magazine
“This collection marks the emergence of a bona fide literary treasure.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Full of lived-in humanity, warmth, and compassion.” —Pittsburgh Current
“These are stories about Black women that haven’t been told with this level of depth, wit, or insight before, so it will not shock me if Oprah gets around to selecting it before the end of the year.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions.
There is fourteen-year-old Jael, who has a crush on the preacher’s wife. At forty-two, Lyra realizes that her discomfort with her own body stands between her and a new love. As Y2K looms, Caroletta’s “same time next year” arrangement with her childhood best friend is tenuous. A serial mistress lays down the ground rules for her married lovers. In the dark shadows of a hospice parking lot, grieving strangers find comfort in each other.
With their secret longings, new love, and forbidden affairs, these church ladies are as seductive as they want to be, as vulnerable as they need to be, as unfaithful and unrepentant as they care to be, and as free as they deserve to be.
“Triumphant. . . . Philyaw’s stories inform and build on one another, turning her characters’ private struggles into a beautiful chorus.”
“A collection of luminous stories populated by deeply moving and multifaceted characters. . . . Tender, fierce, proudly black and beautiful, these stories will sneak inside you and take root.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Vivid, vibrant stories that will linger on your tongue like sweet tea.”