Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling


Book to Film    


The Joy of Sisterhood

by Joyce Dixon



Those who were introduced to Rebecca Well's Ya-Ya Sisterhood in 1996, have been eagerly awaiting the feature film version of these life-long friends who are seen at three different periods in their lives.  It joins "Steel Magnolias" as a women's ensemble film that blends the complex relationships of female friends as well as the mother-daughter relationship with the eccentric, drama queen qualities of Southern womanhood.

The film offers twelve strong female roles played by a cast including: Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Ashley Judd, Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan and Shirley Knight.  At a time when Hollywood tends to shy away from lead roles for women over forty (dare I say, twenty-nine), "Ya-Ya Sisterhood" proves that a good script based on a strong novel can prove to be a winner.  A director who can see the layers in female personalities helps, too.  Callie Khouri, the screenwriter of "Thelma and Louise," makes her directorial debut with "Ya-Ya Sisterhood."

The soundtrack of "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" could do for Cajun and blues music what "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" did for bluegrass.  Both soundtracks were produced by T Bone Burnett.  The "Ya-Ya" soundtrack will present songs by the original artists, but it will also include songs interpreted by Macy Gray, Tony Bennett, Alison Krauss and Ray Charles.  Lauryn Hill and Bob Dylan have written original songs for the soundtrack.  Dylan's song, "Waitin' for You," is the first soundtrack song he has done since his "Wonder Boys" Oscar-winning tune "Things Have Changed."

Rebecca Wells and her publisher HarperCollins did something special for the film's release by offering Opening Night Movie Kits.  Each kit included supplies for ten Ya-Ya sisters to create customized t-shirts. 

Rebecca Well's official site has been a haunt of Ya-Ya sisters since it's creation.  The site provides a gathering place for Ya-Ya sisters to share ideas and get to know each other.  The media has been using the site to contact Ya-Ya groups as the film frenzy reaches it's height.  Oprah's production staff used photos of several groups in an opening montage when the film's cast visited the show.  They have also been thrown into the spotlight by local newspaper and broadcast reports.  These ladies have done well under this microscope; after all, they're YA-YAs!! 

Opening night will be an event for Ya-Ya groups across the country. The Ya-Ya Sisterhood of Nashville hosted the Nashville, TN premiere of "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" a couple of weeks ago.  According to Alicia Duggan, they were given passes for all of their friends, and before the movie started, they introduced themselves to the audience and welcomed them to a evening of "Ya-Ya."

The Grand Casino Biloxi has donated two limousines to take the Dixie Divas to a movie theater in Gulfport.  Mary Cantrell, Mistress of Laughter, says the Dixie Divas will be dressed to a tee -- boas and tieras will be required.

The Krewe of Ya-Ya (Baton Rouge, LA) will arrive at the theater as a group driving their vehicles bearing the "Ya-Ya" license plates.  Roberta Farrell says they plan to get there early in order to get their popcorn, cokes and candy.  Once the movie starts, Farrell imagines the Krewe will be nudging each other and laughing out loud as they relate to something in the movie.

The Southwest Louisiana Chapter of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (Lake Charles, LA) is taking part in two separate opening night events.  Four members will attend the New Orleans premier dressed in boas and their "fancy smancy" clothes and toting a thermos of bloody mary's.  Catherine Dudoit, Princess Ghost Walker, says that about 30 to 40 people are expected to attend the Lake Charles premier party.  The evening will start with a bar-b-que, drinks, goodie bags, and a D.J. to play their favorite "French" tunes.

The Southern woman mystique has been elevated almost to a mythical level;
but then, it ain't braggin' if'n it's fact! 
                ~ Donna Alexander, BSSWE, Houston/Galveston Ya-Ya Chapter
Which came first -- the Ya-Ya group or the group of women friends?  The answer varies from chapter to chapter.  Some were born out of  book clubs reading Rebecca Well's novel, while others were inspired by the book to gather their old friends and claim their sisterhood in Ya-Ya.  No matter how the women got together, one thing is the same in all groups -- the bond of female friends to see you through life's ups and downs.

The Benevolent Society of the Sisters of the Wretched Excess is an off-shoot of the Z Krewe.  "We are all sisters under the skin," claims Joann Bremer. "As a Ya-Ya, we have an empathic listener when we need to vent.  More importantly, we share an unspoken desire to be audacious, outrageous, yes, perhaps outright bold -- even if only by our wearing our choice of Frederick's of Hollywood lingerie on a given day."

During the Hot Flash Brunch, Galveston Ya-Ya Chapter Founder Donna Alexander gives 2002 Miss Wretched Excess, Donna Bumpas, her fabulous prize: a maribou trimmed leopard painted jewel box!

"We all worked together as preschool teachers and developed various friendships, but really came together as a circle of friends in the process of one of us getting married," says Laura Bilbrey (The Ya-Ya Sisterhood of Nashville).  "They say it takes a village to raise a child.  I say, we never lose the need for that community of support; and in my Ya-Yas, I have found that. I am healed and strengthened by this group and their spoken and unspoken support of who I am and who I am becoming. I guess we are just five very ordinary women who have been fortunate enough to find extraordinary friends."

Celebration of life plays a big part is these sisterhoods. "We love garlic and merlot-- our sacred essences," continues Laura Bilbrey.  " We tried to have a Ya-Ya naming ceremony under a tree in a rain storm, which brought many laughs, but no names that stuck.  We have destroyed our homes in shredded paper fights with our children and tried to create for them the same community of support we have found in one another."

"You don't stop playing, because you get old.  You get old, because you stop playing."
~ words to live by according to the Dixie Divas of Biloxi, Mississippi. 
"It is a proven fact that women who bond with a group of eight or more, can add another year or so to their lives.  At our age, this is a great selling factor," boast Mary Cantrell of the Dixie Divas.  "Some of us have been together since grade school.  We are a diverse group of ladies -- bankers, hairdressers, home makers, those in the clerical field, plus an artist."

The pink flamingo is the Dixie Divas mascot. Each month a member is chosen to proudly
display her in their yard.


The Dixie Divas of Biloxi, Mississippi at a meeting discussing the social graces.  Princess Di was a special guest and inspiration.

At their first gathering and rites of initiation, the Southwest Louisiana Chapter of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood fought off huge mosquitoes as they held their ceremony in the berms surrounded by huge live oaks. The twenty-nine adults and twenty-five children on that August night in 2001 held a candle lighting ceremony, while dancing around a bon fire and playing home-made instruments (some filled with red beans and rice). 

"We began gathering together in 1950 when we were young, but knew we had so much in common," remembers Catherine Dudoit (Southwest Louisiana Chapter of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood).  "We just called ourselves soul mates.  We realized we were Ya-Yas when the book was published."

Roberta Farrell of The Krewe of Ya-Ya in Baton Rouge, says it all began with eight women who went to school together in Gonzales, Louisiana, some forty years ago.  "Over three years ago, the eight of us met for lunch and just picked up where we left off after graduating from high school.  Some of us had not seen one another since graduation.  We discussed our marriages, children, careers and, of course, how good we looked.  We haven't stopped talking yet.

"Last year, we turned 60 years old and decided to throw ourselves a birthday party.  We had a Luau with all the trimmings.  Some 80 guests celebrated until the wee hours."

The Krewe of Ya-Ya (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) is the creation of eight friends from high school, who are still strong forty years later.


Melanie Holmquist of the Beaufort, SC Chapter of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood remembers how their group began the summer of 1998.  "Our group of eight married women, with children, were sunning our bodies on the dock of the coastal island camp.  I was reading excerpts of Rebecca Well's book to the girls, all of us cackling with laughter, as the book so closely parallels our life in the Lowcountry.  As the summer evolved, we started our own Chapter.  The initiation to our group required reading both of Well's books, and at the completion the newest member was presented her very own straw Ya-Ya hat decorated to their personality and an initiation party at the home of one of the other senior Ya-Ya's."
  The Beaufort, SC Chapter of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood with their Yo-Yos (Yahoos).

When asked what they would like to say to Rebecca Wells, most wanted to thank her for recognizing the fellowship of women as well as creating an Internet community for them to interact with other Ya-Yas.

Bridget Tanner of Goudeau, LA, had the unique position of getting to know Rebecca Wells this past winter, while the author was living in the small town writing her next novel.  Tanner and Wells took walks together for exercise and visited often -- they were fast friends.  "She (Rebecca Wells) was such a light of sunshine wherever she went," says Tanner.  "She even gave me a surprise birthday party, which no one had ever done for me before, which touched my heart so much."

While Rebecca Wells was working on her novel, her husband was working as a waiter.  You just have to love a Yahoo, who supports your dreams.

Bridget Tanner with Rebecca Wells  

Rebecca Wells gave Bridget Tanner her own Ya-Ya name -- Bridget Ya-Ya Rouge, in honor of Bridget's red hair.  Bridget has recently joined The Krewe of Ya-Ya in Baton Rouge.

Rebecca Wells has tapped into the core of Southern womanhood.  Nancy Manlove of Galveston, sums up the experience: "We can all find ourselves in some part of this novel, the saga of times and the relationships it portrays to the readers.  I laughed, I cried, I saw myself and then I handed the book to my treasured daughter, Julie, to read and hopefully discover the meaning of our mother-daughter relationship and see herself with her YA-YAs."

The Yahoos of The Benevolent Society of the Sisters of the Wretched Excess Z Krewe (Galveston, TX) getting into the act.  They drew some stares when they had to stop for gas and pump in drag.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: Official Movie Site
Ga-Ga for Ya-Yas:  The Official Site for Rebecca Wells


The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
by Rebecca Wells
Harper Perennial, 1996
ISBN: 0-06-092833-6
Little Altars Everywhere
by Rebecca Wells
Harper Perennial, 1992
ISBN:  0-06-097684-5



2002 Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved