PERSONAL: Born in Rapides, LA; father a self-employed businessperson; married Tom Schworer (a photographer). Education: Louisiana State University, B.A.; attended Naropa Institute, Boulder, CO.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Jonathan Dolger Agency, 49 E. 96th St., No. 9B, New York, NY 10128.
CAREER: Playwright, actress, and writer.
MEMBER: Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament (Seattle, WA; chapter founder, 1982).
AWARDS, HONORS: Western States Book Award for fiction, 1992, for Little Altars Everywhere; Adult Trade ABBY Award, 1999, for Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
Splittin' Hairs (one-woman show), first produced at Seattle Repertory Theater in Seattle, WA; later toured the United States, 1983–84.
Gloria Duplex, first produced at Empty Space Uncommon Theatre in Seattle, WA, 1986–87.
Little Altars Everywhere, Broken Moon Press (Seattle, WA), 1992.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Ya-Yas in Bloom, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author and performer of Little Altars and Devine Secrets, a performance piece based on the author's novels Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere.
ADAPTATIONS: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a film based on the book by the same name and the book Little Altars Everywhere and written and directed by Callie Khouri, was released by Warner Brothers, 2002; Ya-Yas in Bloom has been adapted as an audio book, Books on Tape, 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Rebecca Wells is the author of the best-selling novels, Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, both of which center on loyalty among women in the South. Born in the rural parish of Rapides, Louisiana, and raised on a plantation, Rebecca Wells worked briefly as a waitress at Yellowstone National Park, studied writing with the poet Allen Ginsberg, then began a career in off-Broadway theater in New York before writing her first book. Little Altars Everywhere is a 1992 novel set in a small Louisiana town in the early 1960s, and stars the Walkers, led by the flamboyant Vivi and her outdoorsy husband, Shep, and their children, Siddalee, Little Shep, Lulu, and Baylor. In the first part of the book, Siddalee narrates several chapters, telling engaging and interesting stories about her family, and later in the book, the other children have their say. Their stories hint at misconduct and drunkenness, abuse and hidden terrors, and even thirty years after the events took place, the family is still scarred. M.J. McAteer, in the Washington Post Book World, described the book as "a funny, eloquent and sad novel—her first—that easily leaps regional bounds." Mary B. Stuart, a reviewer for the Curled Up with a Good Book Web site, described Little Altars Everywhere as "a poignant, humorous, sad, heart-warming, heart-breaking novel that may very well, over time, be deemed an American classic, and a wonderful achievement by Rebecca Wells."
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, published in 1996, tells the story of four aging Southern belles from Louisiana who have been friends ever since 1932, when they disrupted a Shirley Temple look-alike contest. The women made their first appearance in Little Altars Everywhere, and Vivi, the mother of the children in that book, is one of them. Her daughter Siddalee asks her mother about her friendships with the other women. Vivi gives her an old scrapbook about her friends, the "Ya-Yas," and the stories that unfold from this gift illuminate their past and their present relationship. Booklist contributor Donna Seaman called the book "a wonderfully irreverent look at life in small-town Louisiana from the thirties on up to the present through the eyes of the Ya-Yas, a gang of merry, smart, brave, poignant, and unforgettable goddesses." A Publishers Weekly contributor was distracted by the "superficial characterization and forced colloquialisms," but most other critics responded to Wells's characterization with enormous enthusiasm. According to Sarah Van Boven in Newsweek, women all over the country have formed over a dozen "Ya-Ya clubs" of their own. Van Boven quoted fans as saying: "It gives me comfort just to see it up there on the shelf," and "It's inspiring to see the Ya-Yas reveling in their nonfamilial bond."
When Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood was first released, the publisher did not view it or attempt to market it as a best-seller, but it became one through word of mouth. When women started coming to Wells's book signings with stacks of copies for their mothers, sisters, and friends, she herself was surprised. "I didn't write the book because I had a group of friends like the Ya-Yas," she told Van Boven. "I think I wrote it be-cause I wanted one." Readers identify deeply with the close-knit friends and the complicated mother-daughter relationship. At a reading, a fan once asked Wells if she was Sidda and her mother was Vivi. Before Wells could answer, another fan said, "No, I'm Sidda and my mother is Vivi." "The biggest blessing of the book has been meeting so many women who are loyal to each other," Wells told a writer for People. When asked how she feels about her characters inspiring women to "smoke, drink and never think," Wells replied, "Well, that's just one part of the book. I say, 'Go, girl.'"
Ya-Yas in Bloom is a follow up to Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The former, like the latter, includes many stories from the women's pasts and tales of modern-day irreverence that the group so actively pursues. Among the stories recalled are the Walker family's trip to see the Beatles perform in 1965 and Vivi's confrontation with a nun who teaches her son first grade. Many of the stories also focus on the Ya-Yas' children. Although the stories are generally upbeat, the author takes a more serious tone with the tale about Myrtis's daughter—Myrtis's daughter kidnaps one of the Ya-Yas' grandchildren.
Critics greeted the follow-up novel with glowing reviews, and their comments highlighted the strengths that can be found in most of Wells's writings. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author "still charms when she focuses on the redemptive power of family love and the special bond that comes from genuine, long-lived friendship." Writing on the Bookreporter.com Web site, Bronwyn Miller noted: "Through all their trials and tribulations … the Petit Ya-Yas, learn to face adversity with grit, determination and—most importantly—a sense of style." Miller next went on to conclude that reading the novel "feels like visiting with old friends."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, p. 1674.
Books, summer, 1999, review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, p. 21; summer, 2001, review of Little Altars Everywhere, p. 21.
Christian Century, July 3, 2002, John Petrakis, movie review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, p. 43.
Daily Variety, May 10, 2002, Todd McCarthy, movie review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, p. 2.
Newsweek, July 6, 1998, Sarah Van Boven, review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, p. 71.
Observer (London, England), June 6, 1999, review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, p. 13.
People Weekly, October 5, 1998, "Divine Write," interview with author, p. 87.
Publishers Weekly, June 29, 1992, review of Little Altars Everywhere, p. 58; April 8, 1996, review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, p. 57; February 22, 1999, Daisy Maryles, "Ya-Ya begins Two, Too," p. 20; February 14, 2005, review of Ya-Yas in Bloom, p. 53; April 11, 2005, Daisy Maryles. "Yay-Yays for Ya-Yas," p. 20.
Romance Reader, February 4, 1999, review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 3, 1997, review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, p. 8.
Washington Post Book World, September 6, 1992, M.J. McAteer, review of Little Alters Everywhere, p. 9.
Women's Journal, July, 2001, review of Little Altars Everywhere, p. 16.
BookPage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (October 28, 2003), interview with Wells.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (March 9, 2006), Bronwyn Miller, review of Ya-Yas in Bloom.
Curled Up with a Good Book Web site, http://www.curledup.com/ (October 27, 2003), Mary B. Stuart, review of Little Altars Everywhere; Denise M. Clark, review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
January Magazine Online, http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (October 27, 2003), Monica Stark, review of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
Rebecca Wells Home Page, http://www.ya-ya.com/ (March 9, 2006).
SouthCoast Today Online, http://www.southcoasttoday.com/ (March 9, 2006), Shana McNally, "You'd Know If You're 'Ya-Ya."'