SRU hosting author Deesha Philyaw for Common Read, March 31


Book author

Deesha Philyaw, author of “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies,” will present and read an excerpt from her book at Slippery Rock University’s Common Read event, 7 p.m., March 31, at the Miller Theater in the Performing Arts Center.

March 23, 2022

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa.  "The Secret Lives of Church Ladies" is not so hush-hush anymore at Slippery Rock University now that more than 1,300 students were assigned to read the book written by Pittsburgh-based author Deesha Philyaw. Making the text even more widely known on campus is Philyaw coming to SRU to discuss her book as part of Common Read, an event hosted by the English Department and the College of Liberal Arts, 7 p.m., March 31, at the Miller Theater in the Performing Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public and Philyaw will be available to sign copies of her book afterward.

More than 30 sections of a Critical Reading class, which is an English course that's part of SRU's general education requirement, were assigned to read "The Secret Lives of Church Ladies" this year. The book was chosen by a working group of faculty members who teach the class, and, according to Julie Naviaux, assistant professor of English and Common Read coordinator, Philyaw's piece met several criteria.

Book cover

"With all the social unrest in our country, we decided it would be useful to bring in a current and engaging Black author to campus to share experiences of people who might not be represented as much on campus and in the local community," Naviaux said. "We also felt it was important to bring in a local author and one whose book is getting a lot of attention, and Deeshya's book is certainly making a splash."

"The Secret Lives of Church Ladies" was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award

for Fiction and it was the winner of the 2021 Poets, Editors, and Novelists/Faulkner Award and the 2020 L.A. Times Book Prize, to name a few. The book includes nine stories of different "church ladies" who grapple with who they want to be in the world and their secret longings, new love interests and forbidden affairs. The topics are related to race, the church and sexuality through the lens of everyday life.

"The book is about individuals, primarily Black women, trying to reconcile the conflicts in their lives versus the lives of them as church women," Naviaux said. "It's a very personal book, but not autobiographical, and it deals with topics that people would struggle to even talk about with their best friend. It creates a kind of intimacy that can be challenging or uncomfortable for people because it's asking readers to understand, through these women, that people might not all make the best choices, and that it can be easy sometimes to judge someone based on their decisions until you really understand their story."

"The Secret Lives of Church Ladies" is the fiction debut for Philyaw, whose writing on race, parenting, gender and culture has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, McSweeney's, the Rumpus, Brevity, TueNight and elsewhere. Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Philyaw currently lives in Pittsburgh with her daughters.

More information about Philyaw and her book are available at

For more information about Common Read, contact Naviaux at or call the SRU English Department at 724.738.2043. More information about the English Department and the Rock Integrated Studies Program, SRU's general education requirement, are available on the SRU website.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854  |