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ISBN: 978-1-62557-047-5
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Because We Were Christian Girls

Publication Date: October 2022

About

A finalist for the Fall 2019 Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook Competition, the Cupboard Pamphlet’s 2020 Annual Contest, and the 2021 Newfound Prose Prize.

Inspired by Virgie Townsend’s own experiences growing up in an independent fundamental Baptist church, the seven stories in Because We Were Christian Girls examine religious and gender oppression through an unforgettable cast of Christian fundamentalist girls. In the titular story, Townsend writes, “All Christian girls know what happens when they disobey, even if it’s by accident. We end up pregnant, kicked out of our churches, and used as examples in sermons about what happens to disobedient Christian girls. Eventually we go to hell, where we fall for eternity in a dark, fiery pit, bound in rough chains that tear and burn our flesh, deprived of any human contact except for listening to the eternal screams of other Christian girls who are also bound, falling, and should have listened to their elders.”

In prose alternately lyrical and humorous, and through stories sometimes dwelling in poignant realism and at others in the surreal, Townsend’s girls navigate child abuse, body image issues, sexual curiosity and homophobia, addiction, racism, and classism on their paths to self-actualization and, ultimately, freedom. This is a debut short fiction chapbook you won’t soon forget.

From BECAUSE WE WERE CHRISTIAN GIRLS

“RUNNING” 

We start running when church lets out. Prayers and communion crackers are still on our lips. It’s summer and Jesus loves and hates us. Or He loves us, but hates our sin. Either way, it’s summer, Wednesday evening Bible study is over, and we’re running out of the church building into the untended field. The grass is long and budding with feathers of golden seeds. We run with our palms out, and the grass can’t decide whether to brush or scratch us.

These are the wild days. We girls grow our hair long and insouciant like horsetails. We don’t think about boys. We don’t dress for them or take pictures for them or worry about what they’re thinking. Someday we’re supposed to submit to them, but not now. For now, they’re just boys. They’re not God. For now, we run with them.

The church sits on a hill overlooking the highway and blue-pink-purple sky, with the steeple cross overlooking us. No one can see us. The church grounds are private. There’s a house on the edge of the property, but a thicket of trees seals us off. We’re in the world, but not of it. We’re soldiers in the army of God, and we’re children.

Our parents are running, too, but we don’t know it yet. They stand in the parking lot under the lamplight talking to one another, consumed with eternity. They look like they’ve always looked to us: unsatisfied, unconcerned, waiting for deliverance. We don’t know it yet, but the past is always at their heels. Its teeth are sharp, its mouth a void.

Nobody knows who’s it or who’s supposed to be hiding or who’s supposed to be seeking. We keep running. We’re all hiding. We’re all seeking.

Praise

Because We Were Christian Girls is a burst of holy fire. Written with lyric heart and beautiful insight, Virgie Townsend rips open the longing heart of good girls everywhere and reveals them for all their bloody complexity. This book is a triumph of insight and imagination. Virgie’s prose is both tender and excoriating, like a loving and holy spirit. The stories and the heart of this book are burned into my soul. I’ll be thinking about this book for a long, long time.
—Lyz Lenz, author of God Land and Belabored

Because We Were Christian Girls is a revelatory story collection of girlhood desire for selfhood. With evocative prose and wit, Townsend portrays the harrowing world of God’s love at the turn of the millennium where sparkling grape juice is a road to sin, “The internet has potential for great evil,” and Britney Spears’ midriff might be the Devil. Under parental oughts and steeple crosses, the girls yearn for answers that don’t exist in their world. Because We Were Christian Girls is an urgent portrayal of fundamentalist repression of femme and queer personality through girls who to know the Spirit, must know their own.
—Crystal K, author of Goodnight

In Because We Were Christian Girls, Virgie Townsend extracts beauty from a fundamentalist upbringing. Painful and darkly funny in turn, Christian Girls will provoke a shudder of recognition in those from strict backgrounds and foster empathy in those who are not.
—Sarah Jones, senior writer for New York magazine and author of the forthcoming The Sin-Eaters

Virgie Townsend’s Because We Were Christian Girls is a community maneuvering sexuality, independence, and faith in the stranglehold of fundamentalism. In these stories, Townsend deftly captures the energy of her characters’ constant worry.
—Christopher Allen, author of Other Household Toxins

“It’s summer and Jesus loves and hates us.” Honest, immersive, and captivating, these seven stories by Virgie Townsend give a candid and aching view of girlhood through the lens of fundamentalist Christian life. Townsend explores the complicated tension between the desire to belong and the need to rebel and how it feels to be “in the world, but not of it.” Each story stands alone, but taken together we get an insightful and richly layered view into a culture and a family on the cusp of change. Beautifully, incisively written and deeply resonant.
—Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works

Because We Were Christian Girls is filled with lovely, heartfelt writing. As a collection, it will make you reconsider faith. How it can be wielded as a cruel blade, how it can feel like an infection, how its capacity can be cultivated toward self-love. Beautiful!
—Megan Giddings, author of Lakewood and The Women Could Fly

About the Author

© Bridget Florack/By Bridget Photography

Virgie Townsend

Virgie Townsend (she/they) is the author of the fiction chapbook Because We Were Christian Girls (Black Lawrence Press, 2022). As a fiction writer, essayist, and reporter, her work has been featured in The New York TimesTin House OnlineWashington PostHarper’s BazaarVICE, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Jellyfish Review, among other publications. Virgie lives in Syracuse, New York, with her family. Find her online at virgietownsend.com.

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