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Literature, Blackness, Christianity Explored Friday, March 31

On Friday, March 31, Deesha Philyaw, the Grisham Writer-in-Residence and UM visiting professor, will assume the moderator’s chair at 10:30 a.m. for the genre-spanning panel “Church-ish: On Literature, Blackness, and Christianity” with poet Khalisa Rae, nonfiction author Danté Stewart and novelist Chantal James, after a welcome by Kathryn McKee, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. This panel will take place at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, located at 113 S 9th St., just off the Oxford Square.

Khalisa Rae is a multi-hyphenate poet, educator, and journalist based in Durham, North Carolina. She is best known for her community activism and nonprofit management as the co-founder of Poet.she (Greensboro), the Invisibility Project, and Athenian Press-QPOC writer’s collective, resource center, and bookstore in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Khalisa Rae
Khalisa Rae

Rae is the author of Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat (Red Hen Press), her 2021 debut book of poetry. The collection is a heart-wrenching reconciliation and confrontation of the living, breathing ghosts that awaken Black women each day. This debut poetry collection summons multiple hauntings—ghosts of matriarchs that came before, those that were slain, and those that continue to speak to us, but also those horrors women of color strive to put to rest. Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat examines the haunting feeling of facing past demons while grappling with sexism, racism, and bigotry. They are all present: ancestral ghosts, societal ghosts, and spiritual, internal hauntings. This book calls out for women to speak their truth in hopes of settling the ghosts or at least being at peace with them.

As a champion for Black queer narratives, Khalisa’s articles appear in Fodor’sAutostraddle, Vogue,Catapult,LitHub, Bitch Media, Black Femme, NBC-BLK, and others. Her work also appears in Electric Lit, Southern Humanities ReviewPinch, Tishman Review, Frontier Poetry, Rust & MothPANK, HOBART, among countless others.

Dante Stewart
Danté Stewart

In 2016, Danté Stewart was a rising leader at the predominantly White evangelical church he and his family attended in Augusta, Georgia. Like many young church leaders, Stewart was thrilled at the prospect of growing his voice and influence within the community, and he was excited to break barriers as the church’s first Black preacher. But when Donald Trump began his campaign, so began the unearthing. Stewart started overhearing talk in the pews—comments ranging from microaggressions to outright hostility toward Black Americans. As this violence began to reveal itself en masse, Stewart quickly found himself isolated amid a people unraveled; this community of faith became the place where he and his family now found themselves most alone. This set Stewart on a journey—first out of the White church and then into a liberating pursuit of faith—by looking to the wisdom of the saints that have come before, including James H. Cone, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and by heeding the paradoxical humility of Jesus himself.

Chantal James
Chantal James

Chantal James lives in Washington, D.C., and has been published across genres—as a poet, fiction writer, essayist, and book reviewer—in such venues as Catapult, Paste Magazine, Harvard’s Transition Magazine, The Bitter Southerner, and more. Her honors include a Fulbright fellowship in creative writing to Morocco and a finalist position for the Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction prize from the North Carolina Literary Review for 2019.

Lyrical, riveting, and haunting from its opening lines, her new novel, None but the Righteous, is an extraordinary debut that signals the arrival of an unforgettable new voice in contemporary fiction.

Deesha Philyaw is the author of the debut short story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, (West Virginia University Press) which was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and a 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction; the collection of stories explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good.

Deesha Philyaw
Deesha Philyaw

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 Reviewsand “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.” The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is being developed for television by Tessa Thompson for HBO Max.

Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, dead housekeeping, Apogee Journal, Catapult, Harvard Review, ESPN’s “The Undefeated,” The Baltimore Review, TueNight, Ebony and Bitch magazines, and various anthologies.

Philyaw is the 2022–23 John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is a past Pushcart Prize nominee for essay writing in Full Grown People. Philyaw lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.