When I Spoke in Tongues: A Pentecostal Girlhood

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$26.95  $25.06
Beacon Press
Publish Date
5.8 X 8.6 X 1.3 inches | 1.05 pounds

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About the Author
Jessica Wilbanks is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize as well as creative nonfiction awards from Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Redivider, and Ruminate magazine. In 2014, she was selected as a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Journalism. Jessica received her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Houston, where she served as nonfiction editor for Gulf Coast. She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son.
"Wilbanks's slow deconstruction of her family-given religiosity is an evocative inversion of the average spiritual journey."
--Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"This debut memoir conveys a down-home feel with a literary voice."
--Library Journal

"An earnest account of an adult maintaining ties with her family of origin."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Wilbanks writes with a journalist's keen eye, capturing the loving chaos of her family's house and the fervent, bombastic clamor of revival meetings in both the US and Nigeria. . . . Her narrative provides a fascinating glimpse into a faith subculture whose popular image is often reduced to arm-waving televangelists. But even more compelling is Wilbanks's honest rendering of the profound uncertainty that comes after leaving behind a place that hasn't changed, but is no longer home."
--Shelf Awareness

"Wilbanks has a fascinating story to tell, and she tells it well. Especially interesting is her report of her time in Nigeria, where Pentecostalism is hugely popular and potent. But is it viable? Wilbanks wonders, and so will readers like her who may be interested in learning about the roots of faith."

"This compelling debut is shaped like a search for a long-lost friend, or an examination of a love affair that left the author forever changed. . . . Wilbanks weaves a fiercely candid account of reconciling with a faith whose tenets seem set in stone."

"It's rare to come across individuals who can so precisely capture what it means to leave a unique and profound (religious) meaning system. Moreover, the ability to unravel the emotionally wrenching and often complex social psychological process of rebuilding a new life, after leaving a fundamentalist religion, is quite the undertaking. Jessica Wilbanks's new memoir, When I Spoke in Tongues: A Story of Faith and Its Loss, highlights her own process of leaving the Pentecostal faith and how it not only impacted her family relations, as it commonly does, but how she ultimately made sense of her exiting experience."
--Religion Dispatches

"I have plenty of bright, well-educated friends who nevertheless can't imagine any scenario in which they could genuinely believe in God, let alone get fully caught up in some kind of religious ecstasy. For such folks, and for us prodigals still haunted by preachers long left behind, and really for anyone who grew up feeling different from those they loved most--which means most of us--Jessica Wilbanks's vivid memoir is a great and generous gift. This is what fiery faith really feels like on the inside, both coming and going, and this is how we use it to comfort and hurt each other, and this is what happens when it dies but you don't, all in language stirring enough to earn Wilbanks a place beside Mary Karr and Anne Lamott on my top shelf. When I Spoke in Tongues is the book I will offer from now on, when my cradle-atheist friends wonder what it's like to come of age truly fearing the Lord."
--Bart Campolo, coauthor of Why I Left, Why I Stayed

"Jessica Wilbanks's memoir of faith's loss and her efforts to comprehend its significance is no less than an illuminating exploration of how to live meaningfully. Beautifully written, When I Spoke in Tongues is compelling, honest, and memorable."
--Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl

"Fever dream--this is how Jessica Wilbanks describes the first time she spoke in tongues (as an eleven-year-old Pentecostal), which is as good a phrase as any to describe the experience of reading this lucid and hallucinatory memoir. The questions that float through these pages--What is belief? What is faith?--spoke to me in ways I hadn't expected, or even knew to ask, and revealed a world running alongside our own, which we mock or ignore at our peril."
--Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

"In When I Spoke in Tongues, Jessica Wilbanks returns to the Pentecostal faith of her youth to search for the source of power and mystery that worship once awakened in her. Along the way, she gives us a moving and clear-eyed account of what happens when a person leaves behind her deeply-held religious beliefs, and what we find when we look within ourselves for redemption and grace."
--Lacy M. Johnson, author of The Reckonings

"When I Spoke in Tongues is the perfect antidote to the divisions of our day. As Jessica Wilbanks travels back into her impoverished Pentecostal past and through the Nigeria of the present, seeking a lost world of meaning and beauty and belonging, she becomes our guide--but not just through new realms that may be foreign to us. She shows us how to move with deep empathy into sometimes hostile terrain, how to seek the humanity in others, especially those with whom we fundamentally disagree. Even in writing a story about faith and its loss, then, Wilbanks ends up constructing a new home for herself--and maybe for us if we follow her lead--that is grounded in love."
--Kimberly Meyer, author of The Book of Wanderings

"At the heart of When I Spoke in Tongues is the narrator's fervent desire to do good and speak truth. That ideal, refracted through evangelical dogma or family loyalty, sets the course for this utterly absorbing journey of self-realization. One reaches the end feeling that it is possible to maintain personal integrity, as well as to be roundly committed to family, curiosity, world, and eternity."
--Antonya Nelson, author of Funny Once

"Faith is complicated. This is a story about loss of faith and yearning for that lost faith, by a woman raised as a deeply conservative Christian. Her story of a Pentecostal childhood will intrigue Christians and non-Christians alike."
--T. M. Luhrmann, author of When God Talks Back

"Jessica Wilbanks invites us to see the subtle ways that faith can thickly weave together lives, families, and places. When I Spoke in Tongues vividly and delicately describes the loss of faith, but it is perhaps just as much about the uncertain longing that accompanies that loss. It is a testimony to the ways faith continues, even in its absence."
--Jason Bruner, author of Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda

"This riveting personal account looks at the human freedom to assent to or move away from a faith tradition. It is a must-read for all who want to understand the pull and push of Pentecostalism."
--Elias Kifon Bongmba, editor of The Routledge Companion to Christianity in Africa