Lisa Desjardins: Deesha Philyaw debut short story collection the Secret Lives of Church Ladies was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award. Her works center on memory with themes of race, desire and pop culture. Tonight, Philyaw shares her Brief But Spectacular take on black women sex and the black church.

Deesha Philyaw, Writer: I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and I grew up being sent to church. So I was always surrounded by women outside and inside of the church and that really shaped a lot of the questions I had about womanhood and about sex.

I wrote the Secret Lives of Church Ladies a collection of nine short stories about black women, sex and the black church. I understand you feel the need to offer some explanation for stepping out with someone like me some reason for why I turn you on. Why do you turn me on? Is that you want me when there’s so many reasons you shouldn’t. That turns me off.

The stories in the collection have to do with desire and longing, love, sex, family and mothers and daughters. You tell people up here that you’re from the south and nine times out of 10 they say the same old thing. I’m sure you miss the sunshine.

Rhonda and I both miss taking sunshine and easy morning commutes for granted. But what we really miss are the laughter and embrace of our mothers and grandmothers and aunties, kin and not kin. My entire collection is rooted in memory and nostalgia brought together with my imagination.

We miss their Bear Brown arms reaching to hang clothes on the line with wooden pens. We miss their sun tea brewed all day and big jars on the picnic table in the backyard. Then later loaded with sugar and sipped over plates of their fried chicken in the early evening. We miss lying next to them at night in their four poster beds with two soft mattresses covered by iron sheets and three generation old blankets. We missed tracing the soft folds and their skin when we held hands and watch their favorite TV shows in their beds.

Being able to channel memory in my work helps me to be a better writer. I think it takes me back to the sounds, the smells how I felt growing up and that’s shows up in a lot of my short stories.

We miss how they made our Easter dresses and pancakes and a way out of no way but we lost all those things when we chose each other Only the memories remain which is why even though we grew up in different places, so many of our bedtime conversations start with remember when, as we lie there in the dark with our nostalgia, and nothing to distract us from it, not even each other. Not anymore. Thank you.

My name is Deesha Philyaw. And this is my Brief But Spectacular take on black women, sex and the black church.

Lisa Desjardins: And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at