Girlfriends fans rejoiced last month when star Tracee Ellis Ross shared on Instagram a video of her former co-stars Golden Brooks, Jill Marie Jones, and Persia White. As they all prepare for a long-awaited reunion appearance tonight on Tracee’s current TV gig, ABC’s Black-ish, fans may wonder if the book that defined Girlfriends will come up in conversation.
The reunion even produced an Entertainment Weekly first-look profile of the Black-ish episode that will revolve around Tracee’s character’s Rainbow and her feminist friends from college. But Girlfriends, a UPN sitcom that celebrated four single black women living in 2000s Los Angeles, produced its own best-selling Oh Hell Yes! by Maya Wilkes, played by Golden.
Oh Hell Yes! is the fictional self-help book told in a “homegirl” tone. It obviously paved the way for today’s hits from mostly white women authors like Jen Sincero’s You Are a Total Badass to Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Wash Your Face.
“The Way We Were” is Maya’s book launch episode, running on Feb. 21, 2005, over a decade before TV shows that brought a book into the storyline actually worked with a real-life publisher to get the book on shelves, a newer tactic made popular by bookish shows like Younger and Jane the Virgin have done.
To give some background, Maya is a single mom and recent divorcee who works as a paralegal for lawyer Joan Clayton, played by Tracee. Joan’s friends from UCLA includes Toni Childs, played by Jill Marie, and Lynn Searcy, played by Persia. So they’re all friends navigating the highs and lows of being professional black women in the big city. At the time, the show was coined as a comedic black version of Sex and the City or an updated Living Single.
Maya is nervous at the book launch inside the fictional Crenshaw Bookstore. They huddle behind a bookshelf to calm Maya before her “authoress” debut. (Maya dramatically called herself an “authoress” throughout the series).
“Don’t let fear make you its bitch,” Toni soothes Maya.
“Wow, that’s good. Who wrote that?” Maya asks.
Maya freaks out about forgetting her own advice and heads to the podium. Joan is avoiding William, played by Reggie Hayes who’s also a lawyer and the fifth unofficial “girlfriend.” William shows up at the book-signing, after their awkward short-lived relationship.
As the event starts, each of the friends read an excerpt. “Don’t be hatin’ what your mama spent nine months creatin'” is one of Maya’s proverbs read aloud.
After the readings, Maya thanks her cousin/publicist, her current boss William, and her friends.
“I also have to thank my girls,” she says. “Joan, Toni, and Lynn. You three have been my rock for these past few years, and the inspiration for my book. Because if y’all haven’t been manless, crazy heifers, there wouldn’t have been anything to write about.”
During the book-signing, Maya’s ex-husband Darnell, played by Khalil Kain, makes a surprise appearance to get his book signed. Of course, Maya takes this the wrong way, which leads to a fake cookout at Joan’s house the next day so she could wear her booty shorts for Darnell. But when Darnell, the sole attendee, shows up trying to figure out the situation, he breaks the news he’s engaged to his girlfriend.
Oh Hell Yes! played a pivotal role across seasons as Maya began writing the manuscript in her community college class as an essay. While dropping gems of wisdom at her cousin’s hair salon, customers became hooked to Maya’s no-nonsense advice to living your best life. This leads to a self-publishing adventure, where she’s even selling copies on the freeway ramp to drivers. She does finally get a big-time publishing deal, but she loses that deal once she can’t concoct a follow-up.
The show was ahead of the self-publishing wave and the self-help book wave. Books like Oh Hell Yes! are everywhere in bookstores, especially from women who have built a career through the internet and social media. As a black female author, Maya also went the self-publishing route since it’s still hard for women of color to get book deals from top publishers.