Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Author Rebecca Wells Charms the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival

Rebecca Wells in her vintage 1930s dress.
In 1996, Louisiana author Rebecca Wells published Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in which Siddalee Walker from Thornton, Louisiana contemplates the past, the future, and the lifelong friendships between her mother Vivi and her fellow Ya-Yas.

The book was incredibly successful and sparked such an interest in the Walker clan that the author's earlier novel, Little Altars Everywhere (1992) also became a hit.

From there, anything Rebecca Wells wrote was gold.

As fate would have it, the sweet taste of success would be on the back burner for Miss Wells. As her books began to rise to the tops of the best seller lists, she would be diagnosed with Lyme disease and would spend the next few years battling the chronic illness that this diagnosis would bring.

At the fourth annual Books Along the Teche Literary Festival last weekend, Miss Wells did not talk a great deal about her battle with Lyme disease but the residual effects do linger; bright light is intolerable and she gets cold easily. She tires easily, but when you give as much as she does to a performance, that is easy to understand.

The stage at the Sliman Theater in New Iberia was set for the popular author: three bottles of Essentia water, reading glasses, a tall bar stool, a black shawl, a music stand with her notes.

Miss Wells entered from the back of the stage, did a "Loretta Young twirl" to show off her vintage 1930s dress, and took her place.  Beautiful, ageless, charming, she told the capacity crowd about her dress, her struggle to find shoulder pads for it, and she talked about returning to the South to live in Tennessee.

The highlight of her performance was her reading from her book-in-progress, Divine Daughter of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. In an interview with Deep South Magazine in 2016, Wells said, "I am never happier than when I am performing my work. It’s really all I want to do," and it shows. She is a performer and as she read her work it was pure poetry. The inflection, the quizzical tones, the humor, delivered in Miss Wells's sweet southern drawl all come through and bring her characters to life. It is mesmerizing to watch and to hear.

In the excerpt Wells shared with us, "No More Y'all," Siddalee Walker is in New York and takes a class to minimize her Southern accent in order to advance her acting career. Sidda struggles with this, of course, and as Miss Wells enunciated the difference between "ten" and "tin" and "four" and "fo-oour," I think everyone in the audience was silently saying those words to themselves. I know at the dinner event later that evening everyone at our table said them aloud!

"Say 'Ten'!" said one guest from Iowa.

"Tin," I said.

Whoops and good-natured laughter.

After her performance, Miss Wells took a brief break to recoup, and then signed copies of her books for everyone who wanted her signature. Some brought play programs from other performances, and some brought posters. Anything Rebecca-Wells-related that was there, got signed, and anyone who wanted to visit with her got their wish. She was the most gracious, kind person I could possibly imagine.

Later that evening, at the dinner and dancing event at the Steamboat Pavilion on Bayou Teche, as we practices saying "four" and "fo-ooor," as we ate fried shrimp and jambalaya, and as we danced to Terry Huval's Jambalaya Cajun Band, in waltzed Rebecca Wells, perfectly darling in black leggings, pink long sleeved top, and a black, gauze tunic.

She is, as my mama would say, "not as big as a minute," a tiny little thing, with her hair swooped up on top of her head and her lipstick perfect.

She spent the next hour eating, dancing, and taking photos with the crowd.

Posing for photos with the locals

She did the Cajun two-step, the Cajun Conga line, and she took the microphone and pronounced the festival to be "not a book festival but a book party!"  She expressed her love for Louisiana and her hometown roots and said how glad she was to be back.

Wells in the Conga line with your author right behind her.

She won every heart in the place.

It is so exciting to see this festival grow and to see the great talent that it attracts. Last year was Ernest Gaines and I couldn't imagine how they could top that. Now I can't imagine who could top the precious, talented Rebecca Wells!

Coming Next:  The Great Southern Chefs Cooking Demo and Ken Wells/Gumbo Life

Further Reading:
Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Louisiana Blood: An Interview With Rebecca Wells (Lafayette Daily Advertiser, 4/5/19)
Wells has Audience Thrilled with Tales of Life, Fiction (The Daily Iberian, 4/7/19)
Rebecca Wells Comes Home (Deep South Magazine, 10/14/16)
Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 1 (SIGIS, 4/9/18)
Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 2 (SIGIS, 4/14/18)

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