By Jody DiPerna
Pittsburgh Current Senior Contributor
Yesterday, Tessa Thompson announced that her new production company, Viva Maude, is moving into production with an adaptation of Deesha Philyaw’s amazing short-story collection, ‘The Secret Lives of Church Ladies,’ (WVU Press, 2020) for HBOMax.
Philyaw’s nine stories celebrating the hidden lives of church ladies and Black women who she describes as “church lady-adjacent” took the literary world by storm in 2020. The stories are tender and raw and authentic; they celebrate the spaces where Black women live, spaces of Black joy, female sexuality and tenacious survival.
‘Church Ladies’ was a 2020 National Book Finalist in fiction and landed on just about everybody’s best of lists. Locally, independent bookstores tore through shipments. Bloomfield’s White Whale Books hosted several events with Philyaw and said via their Insta feed that they sold an astonishing 388 copies in last year.
In ‘The Secret Lives of Church Ladies’ Philyaw calls together secret lovers, women far from the comforts and restrictions of home, complicated mother and daughters, grieving women, and raucous sisters. It is a book that knows when to hit the gas, knows when to hit the brake, and knows when to just idle in the driveway.
She is working with a co-writer on the script for the pilot and told the Pittsburgh Current that it was important to her to be part of the creative team as her book moves into a visual story-telling medium.
“This is my book and I wanted to have a hand in how it’s shaped,” Philyaw said. “No disrespect to the authors who sell their books and move on, but it was really important to me to be involved with it. And, it’s a great opportunity, obviously.”
On the production end, Thompson is known for her work in front of the camera in HBO’s ‘Westworld,’ Boots Riley’s sci-fi satire, ‘Sorry to Bother You,’ and a number of movies in the Avenger-universe. Along with the adaptation of ‘Church Ladies,’ her company will produce an adaptation of ‘Who Fears Death,’ by Nnedi Okorafor.