Pirate's Alley Faulkner SocietyWords & Music

Rebecca Wells


The Ya-Ya Sisterhood


Crusader for Peace

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."


Rebecca Wells is an important role model for developing writers today. Her career proves that fiction writing is comes most naturally when based on a life of broad-based, interesting experiences to draw upon. She has demonstrated by her own efforts the need for building a platform upon which books can be marketed successfully, so important today when publishers do next to nothing to promote the books they publish, especially debut fiction. And she has demonstrated over and over again the importance of sense of place and character development in successful fiction.

She was born and raised in Alexandria, LA, surrounded by Louisiana raconteurs in a large extended family. Early on, she fell in love with thinking up and acting in plays for her siblings—the beginnings of her career as an actress and writer for the stage. Acting in school and summer youth theater productions Rebecca to stepped out of the social hierarchies of high school and into the joys of walking inside another character and living in another world. Early influences were the land around her, the harvest, craw-fishing in the bayou, practicing piano after school, dancing with her mother and brothers and sister. She counts black music and culture as a lifelong influence, along with the poets Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg and author Anais Nin. Before entering college, she went west to hike in Yellowstone National Park, working as a waitress to pay for her summer of imersion in the glories of the natural world. Rebecca was graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, where she studied theater, English, and psychology. There she performed frequently on stage and also became involved in women’s politics. She began keeping a journal shortly after graduating, a lifelong habit since then.

After college, a brief stint in advertising paid the rent. Fast at ad copy, she had plenty of time left over to read books on Tibetan Buddhism and begin the practice of prayer and meditation, "which didn't come easy for me," and read books on Tibetan Buddhism. After saving some money, she left for Boulder, CO, and enrolled at the Naropa Institute to study “Mind, Language, and Consciousness” with Choyum Tringpa Rimpoche, the Tibetan monk and teacher, and Allen Ginsberg. Then, traveled the country by train with a close friend for a year, filling journal after journal, writing performance pieces, shards of stories, and word-portraits of people she’d meet in different towns. Although not fluent in French, she then went to Paris, where a New Orleans friend was studying at the Sorbonne to study jazz piano. When not practicing piano, Rebecca spent countless hours in the Jeu de Paume Museum, captivated by the paintings of such artists as Cezanne, one of her favorites. In France she began “playing with colors,” which remains a joy for her. She camped out for a while in Marseilles, where where New Orleans friends had rented large studios near the Old Port. In a kind of Bohemian drift, Rebecca made a habit of people-watching everywhere she went. Soon, she began making up stories about them, their lives, their loves and losses. Because she didn’t speak the language, it was easier to do this. Rebecca says this time was an important in her life as a writer, as she was released from the restraints of conversation, free to hear song, tone, color.

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.

Rebecca Wells, in fact, was all over the place putting valuable experiences under her belt and into her journal. It took a broken foot, however, to jumpstart her career as a novelist.

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.


(Longer Biography)


(Interview By Susan Larson)




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.”

On the banks of the La Luna River, she discovers a sweet, succulent first love that is as enticing as the music, food, and dancing of her Louisiana home. When heartbreak hits, Calla leaves the familiarity of her hometown and heads downriver to the untamed city of New Orleans, where her destiny further unfolds.

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder is the story of a pink-collar heroine whose willingness to remain vulnerable in the face of adversity opens our hearts to the possibility of love growing from sorrow.

The book was inspired by her first play, Splittin' Hairs, produced in theaters all over the Northwest, including

Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society
624 Pirate’s Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116
phone: (504) 586-1609 or (504) 525-5615
fax: (504) 522-9725
Join Our E-News List