The History of Literature #309 – HoL Presents: The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (A Storybound Project)

309 HoL Presents: The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (A Storybound Project)

The History of Literature presents a short story by Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, produced by Storybound. PLUS! In preparation for our Writers Block episode, we hear from three great writers – Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch, and Franz Kafka – who privately (and achingly) wrote about not writing. Enjoy!

Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, a finalist for The Story Prize (2020/2021), and longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. 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, ESPN’s The UndefeatedThe Baltimore Review, TueNight, Ebony and Bitch magazines, and various anthologies. Deesha is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and a past Pushcart Prize nominee for essay writing in Full Grown People.

The music composition and sound design for this story is by Glasys. Glasys (Gil Assayas) is a pianist, synthesist, producer and vocalist who delivers intricate virtuosic keyboard parts, electronic soundscapes and impassioned vocals in one package that combines his many influences including Electronic music, Alternative Rock, Jazz and Classical music.

Storybound is a radio theater program designed for the podcast age. Hosted by Jude Brewer and with original music composed for each episode, the podcast features the voices of today’s literary icons reading their essays, poems, and fiction.

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History of Literature #86 – Don Juan in Literature (aka The Case of the Red-Hot Lover)

From his earliest days as a popular legend, through many appearances in drama and poetry and fiction and film, the sexual conquistador Don Juan has been the vehicle for authors and artists to wrestle with themes like sexual desire, guilt, honor, gender relations, and the psychology of an unrepentant sinner. Early versions of Don Juan condemned this profligate lover to hell, but as society’s views of morality evolved, so too did Don Juan, with some fascinating results. Host Jacke Wilson takes a look at the many faces of Don Juan, from the character’s earliest stage appearance in 1630 to the recent Jersey Boy incarnation in the film version Don Jon (2013), with stops along the way for Moliere, Mozart, Goldoni, George Bernard Shaw, Sam Malone from Cheers – and of course, the great “satiric epic” Don Juan, written by the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Lord Byron.


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Show Notes:  Continue reading

Worst Thing I Ever Did? Had a Secret Orgy…

Wow. The confessions keep pouring in. I’ll save a few for the podcast, as I promised in the original post. But I’ll share some on the blog too.

Reader Anonymous writes:

Not quite sure why I’m doing this but I’m sure you can handle personal!

Indeed I can! Do go on…

I often refer to this as the ‘worst thing I have ever done’.

My pulse has quickened…I’m at the edge of my seat…the hair on the back of my neck is tingling…

I was in a ‘complicated’ relationship with a girl ‘R’, complicated in the sense that I was strict about not wanting to be in a relationship at this time in my life. I was sexually involved with a few partners at the time and was straight with all parties involved about this.

However, I spent most of my time with ‘R’, I was in a bad place and she took good care of me. She was very in love with me but, in relationship terms, we were not suited. Through the fog of roller coaster depression I could not see the lighthouse-bright fact that I was using her.

Oh no…oh no… I can see this one coming. There’s a pattern here, which fills me with ache. So often the worst thing we’ve done comes from letting down people who have treated us the best… you’re not alone, Anonymous! I’ve gotten dozens of these already!

So! We went to visit my friends in their cosy [location undisclosed] home where the two other people I was seeing were also staying. ‘R’ was uncomfortable from the start, I took great care to not be openly romantic with the others…

Whew! Dodged a bullet there. Good move, Anonymous!

…but we are an affectionate bunch who don’t see each other often…


…and even us cuddling up and watching a film was too much for her. She spent both days isolated in the corner not saying anything.

Oh no! This is not going to end well, I fear.

On the second night she went to bed in the attic early, I was frustrated at her for ‘bringing the mood down’ on one of my precious few times with this company and told her I’d be up later.

Okay, I think I see where this is headed. You flirted with someone else. Well, of course you did. You were feeling low, you were frustrated with R, and a little flirtation was in order. Maybe it even led to something physical, like a kiss on the cheek, that you regret now. Am I right? Don’t be too hard on yourself, Anonymous! R should understand a kiss on the cheek, given the circumstances. It might feel like this is the worst, but maybe you’re just being too hard on yourself.

(Am I right? Is that what happened?)

Very soon after, I went up to a bedroom with three others, barred the door and we all had sex.


She was upstairs devastated and I was downstairs sleeping with other people.

Argh! Well, look. I’m sure you handled it well. You told her, right? Told her what had just happened? Had a good talk about it… maybe a cry… came to some kind of understanding…

I then went up to join her and we cuddled to sleep.

Oh no!

How often did you think about this, Anonymous?

Not nearly often enough at first, that time in my life is a complete blur. Now I think about it often.

And what bothers you? Why do you think it’s the worst?

Because I didn’t even feel that bad about it. In hindsight I am distraught with myself but at the time I could see nothing but my own sense of entitlement to ‘happiness’ and excitement. Depression does that to people.

I now think about it whenever I encounter something that seems utterly unforgivable. I don’t consider myself to be a bad person and this made me realise that no one does. There are no bad people, just bad things.

Words to live by. You are definitely not a bad person, at least not as far as I can see. I think your description of your remorse is very human and full of empathy. Depression does put people in a bad place, but one doesn’t even need depression for things like this to happen. Sometimes people are in a selfish place because we have to try to make ourselves happy (if we don’t who will?), and life is hard to figure out.

We all make snap decisions every day. Some of them are poor – hopefully not too many of them are, and hopefully the damage is limited. But it’s inevitable that something, somewhere will go wrong with something we do. All we can do is keep trying.

We’ve all been there, Anonymous! We have all needed that forgiveness, and we’ve all been in a position where forgiveness is called for (even if it’s hard to give). I think you deserve it in this case, for whatever that’s worth.

Many thanks for passing along this story, which I learned from and found to be agonizingly human. And good luck with the rest of your relationships! If this is your worst, and nothing worse ever happens, I think you’ll be just fine.

Readers, I’m still taking entries! Tell me your worst! Leave a comment or shoot me an email at Anonymity completely guaranteed!

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