Skirt Books: In The Marsh with Delia Owens, author of “Where the Crawdads Sing”

By Lorna Hollifield

People say that crawdads do not sing. There’s science to back it up. But author Delia Owens tells us that if we venture out into the quiet far enough that, indeed, they do. Even creatures deemed voiceless are found to have one after all, if we just venture out into the loneliest parts of the marsh to hear them. This is according to Delia as told to her by her mother in southern Georgia. I, for one, happen to believe them both.

I’ve had two recent pleasures: reading “Where the Crawdads Sing” and sitting down near the Kiawah marsh for a one-on-one with the author. I read the book first, which immediately transformed me into a shameless fangirl of the woman who wrote it. This book is a masterpiece of modern literature and will go down as one of the greatest of all time.

It shows human nature at its animalistic core in the throes of all the great conflicts; woman versus woman, woman versus herself, and woman versus nature. The reader goes on a lonesome sojourn with protagonist Kya to explore the innate desire to connect with something else warm-blooded as she comes of age in near isolation. Alongside her, we, too, will face our fears of being alone, longing for acceptance and desiring to take our rightful places in our own ecosystems. We will yearn to dig down and find the strength for self-reliance, and even scarier, the vulnerability to love. This work of fiction isn’t just a plot that lures us into the intrigues of romance, abandonment and murder, though it has all of those things – it’s more. It has a message that leads all who read it to bits of self-discovery. And that is a gift we’ll carry forever.

Once I met the author, Delia Owens, I understood where this message came from. I learned that she’d lived it. The woman, with the Southern drawl that 23 years living in Africa and a residency in Idaho couldn’t hide, has known loneliness. She has not lived in a motherless marsh, but at times she’s been tossed into her own remote existence. However, she reminded me that “we don’t have to be in a marsh to be lonely.” This is reminiscent of Emily Dickinson who once said, “One need not be a chamber to be haunted, one need not be a house; the brain has corridors surpassing material place.” I’m glad that unlike Dickinson, Owens found her moment to share her message with others and open up those companionless hallways we all find ourselves walking from time to time.

Owens lived a large portion of her life in rural Africa, being charged by packs of lions and elephants and muffling the squeals of baby baboons being weaned from their mothers. It’s a life of adventure that we might even find ourselves envious of at times. But it was also a time when she found herself longing for her pack of females while she watched the lionesses play with one another’s cubs, hunting together and comprising the pride. “We have a genetic propensity to live in groups,” Owens says. Upon this discovery, she realized she missed her people and had learned more than ever about herself. She then followed the urge to share the message through the Southern lens she knows best. “I feel at home when I’m under an oak tree,” she says.

So Delia returned home. She took up residence in the hills of Idaho, but channeled her roots through the power of her pen. In her novel, she somehow manages to show the inner strength that a woman has, that we are all encouraged to tap into in 2019 more than ever, while still giving us permission to crave companionship. She reveals that loneliness isn’t a sin, but a science, and that it is an affliction that cannot be solved on one’s own—maybe the sole affliction. She takes to the page and shows us, as the animals show Kya on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, that we all need both: the self and the herd. In the process, she also shows us the importance of being kind to one another and reaching out to that girl standing in dirt to knees who lives “way out yonder where the crawdads sing.”