Phyllis Tickle: The Godmother of Us All

by Bob Schwartz

Phyllis Tickle

Phyllis Tickle died last week at the age of 81. No matter the number, it would always be too low.

Phyllis is the godmother of contemporary religion publishing and those who worked there. She established the Religion section of Publishers Weekly, the bible of the industry. It is possible that no single individual has had a bigger impact on a significant genre of publishing.

She was also a remarkable writer and speaker on matters of religion and spirituality, including her insights into the emerging church for changing times. Among her many books: The Divine Hours, a series of guides to the ancient practice of hourly prayer, and The Shaping of a Life: A Spiritual Landscape, a memoir that is as close as those who didn’t know her will get to the unique and unforgettable person and spirit she was.

Like a brilliant and generous mother, she encouraged and enabled creative editorial talent and writing for decades. If you look at the careers of the good and the great in the field, you will find Phyllis at the nexus. She is found in the acknowledgments of scores of books, like this one picked at random:

“Phyllis Tickle answered countless e-mailed questions, no matter where in the world she was.”

I don’t precisely remember the first time I met Phyllis. She was just always there. I do remember the last time I spoke with her. That voice, the one I can hear clearly right now, that soft and distinctive Tennessee talk, just lifted and lightened you.

“I love you, Schwartz,” she would say. Love you back, Miss P. Miss you too.