‘Where the Crawdads Sing’

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’

First work of fiction a bestseller for Delia Owens



The New York Times Book Review describes Delia Owens’ debut as a writer of fiction this way:

“A painfully beautiful first novel that is at once a murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative and a celebration of nature. … Owens here surveys the desolate marshlands of the North Carolina coast through the eyes of an abandoned child. And in her isolation, that child makes us open our own eyes to the secret wonders — and dangers — of her private world.”

As fascinating as is the fictional story of Kya, who has grown up alone in the wild coastal marsh, Owens’ story is just as interesting. Educated in zoology and animal behavior, she spent years in Botswana in the 1970s, studying the lions and brown hyenas of the Kalahari, then moved on to Zambia to live with the Luangwa elephants. She has written three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist, plus winning the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing, and been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology and other periodicals. “Where the Crawdads Sing” is her first novel — and quickly hit No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Owens answered these questions for The Free Weekly before her visit to Arkansas for an “If All Arkansas Read the Same Book” tour.

Q. What parts of you and your childhood do we see in Kya?

A. Just like Kya, I was an outside girl. I was so fortunate to have a mother who was a real lady, but also loved nature. She encouraged me to explore deep in the woods, to observe wild deer and foxes. My mother taught me how to walk in the wild without stepping on a snake, but most importantly, she taught me not to be afraid of snakes. It was my mother who said to me, “Go way out yonder where the crawdads sing.”

I made collections of feathers, butterflies, and dried flowers just as Kya did. I learned the names of plants and watched fire flies (not in jars!) in the southern summer evenings. My young friend and I explored the forests and cleared the creeks of autumn leaves. I knew at an early age that I wanted to become a wildlife scientist and spend my life observing wildlife, which is what I did.

Unlike Kya, as a young girl, I had a loving family and many friends, so I did not experience any of the abandonment or loneliness that Kya did as a child. It was later, when I lived in remote areas of Africa, that I experienced loneliness and the affect that isolation can have on a person.

Q. Why North Carolina as a setting instead of somewhere more exotic?

A. I chose the marsh of North Carolina for both practical and poetic reasons. On the practical side, I wanted this story of a young girl growing up mostly alone to be believable. The coastal marsh of NC has a very temperate climate, gardens grow well, and food such as oysters and mussels are fairly easy to collect. Survival of a young girl really is possible.

As for the poetic reasons, I chose the coastal marsh because it is place of beautiful light, sparkling waterways, and miles of lush green grasses that flow to the horizons. It is hopeful and joyful compared to a swamp which can be dark and sinister. Most of us end up in a swamp, a low point, sometime during our lives. “Where the Crawdads Sing” is a story about how to move from the darkness back into the light.

I also chose the marsh of North Carolina because I knew it fairly well because my family visited North Carolina on our family vacations when I was growing up in Georgia.

Q. What was a day in your life like during those years in Africa? And what is a day in your life like where you reside currently?

A. I lived in some of the most remote areas of Africa while studying wildlife, so literally had incredible interactions with wildlife every single day for 23 years. For more than seven years, my research partner, Mark Owens, and I were the only two people in an area the size of Ireland except for some roaming Bushmen, who we never saw. The lions would come into our camp every day of the wet season and often ransacked our outside kitchen area, stealing bags of flour from the tree branches, where we hung them. One night a young brown hyena stepped into our reed bath boma and licked water from the bath basin I was standing in. On numerous occasions we immobilized lions, hyenas or elephants to attach radio collars and were often charged by lions and once by a 450-pound elephant calf. No one day passed without some excitement!

Since returning from Africa, for more than 20 years, I lived in the remote mountains of Northern Idaho. There have been moose in my woodshed, a cougar in my barn, and bears on my deck. I have ridden my beautiful white mare over hundreds of miles of mountain trails and cross-country skied in the back country right outside my backdoor.

Every single day, I realize how fortunate I am to have lived such a life.

Q. What propelled you from non-fiction to fiction?

A. My 23 years of observing wild animals such as lions, brown hyenas and elephants every day, made me realize how much our behavior is like theirs, and therefore how much of our behavior is genetically based. For example, as primates, humans are inclined to live in tightly bonded groups.

Those observations in the wild inspired me to write a novel that would explore how much isolation would affect the behavior of a young girl forced to grow up mostly alone without her troop.

Q. What’s it like to be on the road as a best-selling fiction author, meeting fans and signing books?

A. Fabulous!! I never take one moment of this journey for granted. I am so grateful that so many people have embraced my novel, and I love meeting them. I lived a lonely life for many years, but the readers have filled my life with joy and purpose.



If All Arkansas Read the Same Book:

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’

By Delia Owens

WHEN — 3 p.m. July 20; seating will begin at 2:30 p.m.

WHERE — Fayetteville Public Library

COST — Free; the event will also be available for live viewing at https://livestream.com/faylib.

INFO — 856-7000

BONUS — Books will be available for purchase and signing.



Author Talk — 11 a.m. July 20; doors open at 10:30 a.m., Bentonville Public Library. Free; seating is limited. Because the library expects a big audience, free tickets will be distributed on the day of the event on a first-come, first-serve basis. Patrons must be present to receive a ticket; one ticket per person. The ticket must be shown for seating, and doors open at 10:30 a.m. Overflow parking for the event is available in public lots at Community Development and Downtown Activity Center. 271-3192.

If All Arkansas Read the Same Book — 2 p.m. July 21, Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock. 501-320-5715.

Categories: Cover Story