Deesha Philyaw

Acclaimed Writer
National Book Award Finalist

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Writing About Journeys Not Your Own
  • Good Girls Don’t, Black Girls Will
  • Ain’t I a Mommy? Narratives of Motherhood & Race
  • The Mythical Sisterhood of Black and White Women
  • Choosing You, Telling the Truth
  • An Evening with Deesha Philyaw


“Deesha Philyaw uses the comic, the allegorical, and the geographic to examine Black intimacies and Black secrets. Her work is as rigorous as it is pleasurable to read.” –Kiese Laymon

“Tender, fierce, proudly Black and beautiful.” –Kirkus Reviews

Deesha Philyaw is the author of the debut short story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies (West Virginia University Press, 2020), which was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. She is also the author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband.

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. Nine stories featuring four generations of characters who grapple with who they want to be in the world, the collection was praised as “luminous stories populated by deeply moving and multifaceted characters,” by Kirkus Reviews and “addictive while also laying bare the depth and vulnerability of Black women,” by Observer. Author Tara Campbell notes, “The love in Philyaw’s stories runs the gamut from sweet to bitter, sexy to sisterly, temporary to time tested, often with hidden aspects. The word secret in the title is earned, and some of the secrets are downright juicy.”

Philyaw work has been listed as Notable in the Best American Essays series, and her writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, dead housekeeping, Apogee Journal, Catapult, Harvard Review, Ebony, and Bitch magazines, as well as various anthologies.

She is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and a past Pushcart Prize nominee for essay writing in Full Grown People. She  lives in Pittsburgh, PA.

Deesha Philyaw’s Website


Deesha Philyaw is the author of the debut short story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies (West Virginia University Press, 2020), which was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction; and the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce. Her work has been listed as Notable in the Best American Essays series, and her writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, dead housekeeping, Apogee Journal, Catapult, Harvard Review, Ebony, and Bitch magazines, as well as various anthologies. Deesha is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and a past Pushcart Prize nominee for essay writing in Full Grown People.


THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES (Short Stories, 2020)
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.

CO-PARENTING 101: HELPING YOUR KIDS THRIVE IN TWO HOUSEHOLDS AFTER DIVORCE (Self Help, 2013)
A successful co-parenting relationship is as vital to your child’s well-being and health as nutritious food or proper exercise. Research, anecdotal evidence, and plain common sense all point to the fact that children are happier, healthier, and better adjusted when both of their parents play an active role in their lives. Studies also show that the trauma children experience in the wake of a divorce or separation can be lessened when they see their parents getting along. Kids whose parents successfully co-parent feel more secure than those who have limited or no connection to one of their parents post divorce. Co-Parenting 101 is based on the premise that co-parenting is a must, not an option. The involvement of both parents―not just the primary guardian―is the cornerstone of successful co-parenting. This is the first book written by a formerly married couple for whom co parenting is central to their day to day lives, and it offers a comprehensive, personal, and upfront look at how to effectively raise kids with an ex-spouse. Authors Deesha Philyaw and Michael D. Thomas, the creators of the popular co-parenting website, co-parenting101.org, share their own experiences raising their children together, as well as provide professional advice from co-parenting experts. Through practical tips combined with expert parental strategies, this book a great resource for divorced parents with children. For parents, less time stressed out about legal wrangling means more time to be fully present and engaged with the children. By learning to put their animosity aside, parents can focus on putting their kids first.


Read “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” – Buzzfeed

“I Am Not My Ancestors” by Deesha Philyaw (an excerpt)

Jada wasn’t sure exactly when sex after a long day of protesting had become a thing for her and Victor. But it was their thing. Without saying a word, they seemed to agree there was no need to let all that residual energy and rage go to waste. That’s how deep their bond went. Problem was, like most 20-year-olds they knew, they both lived at home with old-school Black parents who didn’t play that coed sleepover shit when they were in high school and were just as devoted to cock-blocking when their kids came home from college. So Jada and Victor parked behind Walmart and made vigorous love next to their “We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains” signs.

Afterward, Victor drove Jada home. Before she got out of the car, she fluffed her Afro back into place and kissed Victor goodnight. She blasted through the front door and sprinted to her bedroom, dodging her parents who sat in the living room watching TV. Jada’s mother had a nose like a bloodhound and had complained more than once about Jada coming home after a protest smelling like she was “fresh off the streets,” whatever that meant. Jada didn’t want to have to explain why she smelled like she was fresh off Victor’s backseat.

In her bedroom, she stepped out of her sneakers, stripped out of her sweaty t-shirt, jeans, panties and bra, and left them in a pile on the floor. She stood in front of her full-length mirror, took four pictures in various poses, all her best approximations of seductive. She texted the nudes to Victor, then threw on her robe and went to shower.

Once clean, Jada tip-toed downstairs to get a glass of water. From the living room, she could hear some pundit on Fox News complaining about “race baiters” and her father calling the man a goddamn son of a bitch, as if the goddamn son of a bitch could hear him through the TV. Her father was only allowed one supervised hour of Fox News per day, doctor’s orders. “Dear…dear…” Jada heard her mother pleading.

Jada thought about going in and staging another intervention, but thought better of it. She was tired. So she headed up to bed.

The wall along the stairwell was covered in family photos her mother had organized chronologically, from sepia images of Jada’s maternal great-grandparents in front of a sharecropper’s shack, all the way up to Jada’s high school graduation photos. Her ‘fro had been less impressive then, and like her politics, burgeoning. She’d met Victor on the first day of college classes on the quad. By month’s end, they were having sex between classes and leading Movement actions together. Jada loved Victor, and she knew he loved her back, even though he never said it. His heart belonged to the Movement, and Jada was part of the Movement. So…yeah.

Back in her bedroom, Jada checked her phone. Victor had left her nudes on “read.” She hated when he did that. She tossed the phone next to her pillow and climbed into bed. She blew three kisses to the Holy Trinity of pictures on her nightstand…Megan Thee Stallion…Assata Shakur…Beyoncé. Then she turned off her lamp.