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The Art of the Short Story

The Art of the Short Story: Jocelyn Nicole Johnson on My Monticello with Deesha Philyaw

November 3, 2021 via Zoom

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson brings “a voice that is vital and unlike anything else you’ve known before” (Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah) to her stunning debut collection of short stories: My Monticello. In six captivating stories centered around Charlottesville, Virginia, Johnson explores burdened inheritances and extraordinary pursuits of belonging, and bears witness to this country’s fraught legacies.

Award-winning short story writer Deesha Philiaw, whose short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, depicts generations of Black women navigating love, sex, death, family, and faith through the sanctuary and structures of the church, joined Johnson in conversation. The two writers discussed the craft of the short story and their use of the form to interrogate urgent and interwoven questions about the complexity of personal identity, the impacts of systemic racism, and the past, present, and future of America and beyond.

In Conversation

  • Jocelyn Nicole Johnson by Billy Hunt - Eliana Cohen-Orth

    Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

    Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

    Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s writing has appeared in Guernica, the Guardian, Phoebe, Prime Number magazine, and elsewhere. Her short story “Control Negro” was anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2018, guest edited by Roxane Gay, and read live by LeVar Burton as part of PRI’s Selected Shorts series. Johnson has been a fellow at Hedgebrook, Tin House Summer Workshops, and VCCA. A veteran public school art teacher, Johnson lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

    Photo Credit: Billy Hunt

  • lit-deesha-philyaw-36-303x335 - Eliana Cohen-Orth

    Deesha Philyaw

    Deesha Philyaw

    Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, 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 was also a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church, and is being adapted for television by HBO Max with Tessa Thompson executive producing. Deesha is also the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. 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 Undefeated, the Baltimore Review, TueNight, Ebony, and Bitch magazines, and various anthologies. Deesha is also a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and will be the 2022-2023 John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi.

    Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham