Rebecca Wells shown with her King Charles spaniel "Mercy" in her garden on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest, where she "plays with colors...a lifelong joy."
Back in the States and strapped for money, became a cocktail waitress and then a bartender and used the money for more travel and exploration. She had an epiphany Laramie, Wyoming, after a night of dancing in a Cowboy Bar, and decided it was time to take stock and focus. In Amherst, MA, she took a contact improvisation workshop and met Maurine Holbert, who became her acting teacher, mentor, and “spiritual godmother.” She moved to Manhattan to study with Ms. Holbert, studyingthe Stanislavski method and a Jungian depth approach, which integrates spirituality and performance. While becoming a professional actress, her political awareness intensified and she became an early member of Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament (PAND). She studied non-violence with the American Friends Service Committee, demonstrated at nuclear power plants, and helped plan a major march of 100,000 people in Manhattan for nuclear disarmament. Wells flew to Seattle to found the Seattle chapter of PAND and while there, she was cast in a play eventually moved to Seattle. Settling in with nothing but her bicycle, cowgirl boots, a few pair of jeans, and her futon, she wrote her first play—a solo show called Splittin’ Hairs, which won the HBO Excellence in Theatre Award. (This play inspired her latest novel, The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder.) Rebecca developed the play first with a small women’s theater group, then with the Seattle Repertory Theater. She toured Splittin’ Hairs throughout the West, including venues in Elko, Nevada, and Northern Idaho. Her tour of Alaska included performances and instruction for Inuit Native Alaskan villages and the Alaska State Penitentiary in Fairbanks.
She broke her foot dancing in anothere of her plays at the Empty Space Theater. This accident forced to sit still, and not just when she was trying to meditate. She couldn’t act, she couldn’t audition. So, she sat in front of a tiny little Apple computer and began to write. Little Altars Everywhere came first and it won the Western States Book Award and became a New York Times bestseller. Rebecca, her husband Tom, and a friend made up a fictional publicity agency, creating letterhead on the computer and mailing out letters announcing the book. Rebecca, using her acting skills, created a secretary named Mona, who then followed up with phone calls to book readings. When they got a little tour together, they jumped into their FBI-green 1974 Plymouth and traveled to bookstores, where Rebecca, dressed in flamboyant vintage clothes, would proceed to perform her fiction.
Her next novel, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, became a literary phenomenon, rising to number one on the New York Times bestseller list and staying there more than a year. As a grass roots movement of Ya-Ya clubs spread all over the world, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood continued to sit atop the New York Times bestseller list, and on bestseller lists in several foreign countries. At one point, the book was number one on the bestseller lists of every major newspaper in the country. Rebecca performed the abridged audio versions of both Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere. To prepare for the tapings, she went back to Louisiana to visit with people who have the dialects she used in the books. She considers her performance of Little Altars Everywhere to be the best work she has done as an actress. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood won the 1999 American Booksellers Book of the Year Award, and was a finalist for the Orange Prize. Her books have sold around six million copies, have been translated into 27 languages, and are now taught in high schools and colleges. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood was made into a feature film, which brought out groups of women across the country dressed in tiaras and boas, with the words “Ya-Ya” written on sashes across their evening gowns. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood DVD is one of the most frequently rented.
Rebecca, however, missed most of this celebration. At this point she was falling down, and didn’t know why. On the day of the premiere of the movie, she was in an MRI machine to rule out a brain tumor. After years of misdiagnoses, she was finally diagnosed with chronic neurological Lyme disease, which she has battled for the last decade. The fact that a tick bite could cause her to become so ill would have driven her crazy, had she not been so distracted by the anti-malaria treatment for one of the Lyme co-infections. Suddenly, Rebecca and Tom were dealing with caregivers, medicine charts, oxygen tanks and canes. Rebecca entered the country of the very very ill, and for a while did not know if she would return. Rebecca and Tom have been known to joke that they thought these kinds of days might come, but not until their 80s! Now, though, Rebecca figures they can give seminars on the art of coping with it all.
Disease did not keep Rebecca out of active politics. With the publication of her third novel, Ya-Yas in Bloom, also a New York Times bestseller, Rebecca began to speak out about the horrors of Lyme disease, to call for research, to call for a cure, and to call for care for those afflicted with this often mis-diagnosed disease. She is on the honorary board of the Lyme Disease Association. No longer on oxygen, free from IV lines, out of the hyperbaric chambers, liberated from daily injections of antibiotics, Rebecca now leads a life in which Lyme is managed. She’s dancing again--in the kitchen, out in the yard, and in her books.
Rebecca now lives on a small farm on an island in the Pacific Northwest, with her husband, the photographer Thomas Schworer, whose work can be seen in Searching for True (Rizzoli, New York). They grow their own vegetables and flowers, raise Shetland sheep, and share their lives with Mercy, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. Rebecca is waiting for another dog to find her. After all is said and done, she says, “'God' is 'dog' spelled backwards.”
For more on Rebecca's life and work and her long bout and brave recovery from Lyme's Disease, see the following links to stories about her and her web site.
n the small river town of La Luna, Louisiana, Calla Lily Ponder bursts into being, a force of nature as luminous as the flower she is named for. Under the loving light of the Moon Lady, the feminine force that will guide and protect her throughout her life, Calla enjoys a blissful childhood – until it is tragically cut short. From her mother, Calla learns compassion and healing through the humble womanly art of “fixing hair.”