By Jessica Wilbanks
When I Spoke in Tongues
A memoir of the profound destabilization that comes from losing one’s faith–and a young woman’s journey to reconcile her lack of belief with her love for her deeply religious family.
Growing up in poverty in the rural backwoods of southern Maryland, the Pentecostal church was at the core of Jessica Wilbanks’ family life. At sixteen, driven by a desire to discover the world, Jessica walked away from the church–trading her faith for freedom, and driving a wedge between her and her deeply religious family.
But fundamentalist faiths haunt their adherents long after belief fades–former believers frequently live in limbo, straddling two world views and trying to reconcile their past and present. Ten years later, struggling with guilt and shame, Jessica began a quest to recover her faith. It led her to West Africa, where she explored the Yorùbá roots of the Pentecostal faith, and was once again swept up by the promises and power of the church. After a terrifying car crash, she finally began the difficult work of forgiving herself for leaving the church and her family and finding her own path.
When I Spoke in Tongues is a story of the painful and complicated process of losing one’s faith and moving across class divides. And in the end, it’s a story of how a family splintered by dogmatic faith can eventually be knit together again through love.
My Writing Blog
Eudora Welty once said, “Always be sure you get your moon in the right part of the sky.” That was always how I thought of research. Research was fact-checking. Research was stagnant. There was nothing creative about it. My approach changed ten...
My March 2021 newsletter just went out to subscribers. To sign up, click here. This Wednesday night (March 24th), I’m teaching a virtual class on nonfiction book proposals. For a lot of people, writing a book proposal probably feels a lot like doing your taxes:...
My February 2021 newsletter just went out to subscribers. To sign up, click here. When my memoir came out a few years ago, I did an inventory of all the writing projects I could focus on. I had a bunch of essays in various stages of development, the first draft of a...
Jessica Wilbanks is the author of When I Spoke in Tongues, a memoir about faith and its loss. She has received a Pushcart Prize as well as creative nonfiction awards from Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Redivider, and Ruminate magazine. Her essays have received Notable Mentions in Best American Essays and Best American Nonrequired Reading, and she was selected as a finalist for the PEN Annual 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.
“Wilbanks, winner of a Pushcart Prize for essay writing, debuts with the captivating story of how she turned away from God.”
– Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
“Beautifully written, When I Spoke in Tongues is compelling, honest, and memorable.”
– claire messud, author of BURNING GIRL
“[An] utterly absorbing journey of self-realization.“
– Antonya Nelson, author of Funny Once
“A moving and clear-eyed account of what happens when a person leaves behind her deeply-held religious beliefs.“
-Lacy M. Johnson, author of The Reckonings
“Riveting . . a must-read for all who want to understand the pull and push of Pentecostalism.“