RNS Press Release Service

Phyllis Tickle biography to be published 2017

A biography of religion publishing legend Phyllis Tickle, who died on September 22, 2015, will be published in Fall 2017. The book, Phyllis Tickle, is being written by the biographer appointed by her, who is also a member of the Phyllis Tickle Literary Trust and a longtime friend, Jon M. Sweeney. The work will be published by Church Publishing, Inc., the official publisher of the Episcopal Church.

Sweeney is currently researching and writing what will be an exhaustive, critical, authorized biography. It will cover every aspect of Phyllis’s life and career as a writer, poet, journalist, teacher, academic, book publisher, and lay theologian, and the great influence she had through her writing, scholarship, and advocacy:

  • the impact of her poetry, and her teaching of poetry in the schools, over two decades;
  • her influence on Southern book publishing in the 1980s;
  • her role in the great growth of spiritual writing and interfaith understanding that was the 1990s because of her role as the founding religion editor at Publishers Weekly;
  • pivotal relationships with people like John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, Desmond Tutu, and Brian McLaren;
  • the hundreds of thousands of people who took on fixed-hour prayer due to The Divine Hours;
  • her influence on the Episcopal Church USA writ large, and the Emerging church, for which she served as historian, forecaster, and champion;
  • her personal life including her marriage, seven children, and life on the Farm in Lucy;
  • her early and passionate advocacy for LGBTQ rights and understanding in the church.

“Smaller” threads will be woven into the narrative, as well, including her relationships with religious communities such as the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod, controversies sparked by her comments on the lecture circuit, and book projects that she dearly wanted to get to, but didn’t have time.

“I knew Phyllis well for twenty years, but I never knew how rich every decade of her life had been until I delved into this project. I’m looking forward to telling the full story of her eight-plus decades in this biography,” Sweeney says.

Tickle announced in May that she had been diagnosed with inoperable stage four lung cancer, and died at her home near Memphis on September 22.