Idaho Author in Hot Water Ahead of Movie Adaptation Release

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Photo by: Vanity Fair

A Vanity Fair First Look shows Daisy Edgar-Jones as “Kya” and Taylor John Smith as “Tate Walker” in the movie adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing.

By: Annabel Lawrence, Staff Reporter/Sports/Investigative

In August of 2018, Delia Owens’ (an author currently residing in Boundary County, Idaho) debut novel Where the Crawdads Sing instantly gained worldwide attention and adoration. As of April 2022, the book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 150 weeks, and has just recently jumped back into the #1 spot. The novel’s reinvigoration is likely a result from the impending release of the star-studded movie adaptation. Featuring some of the biggest rising stars in Hollywood and an original song “Carolina” by Taylor Swift, Where the Crawdads Sing (film) is expected to gather both book fanatics and film junkies from all over the world when it releases on July 15, 2022. 

However, the approaching release of the film only revives speculation about Owens’ murky past, particularly her involvement in a murder in Zambia in 1995. While Owens is only wanted for questioning in the case, the story unravels a dark history of violence in the face of conservation and a slew of anti-black racist sentiment

While Owens has found herself in the limelight of the book world following the success of Where the Crawdads Sing, the attention isn’t all that new. She and her former husband, Mark Owens, spent 22 years in Africa living on the land and working in wildlife conservation, and over that time, they published three different wildlife memoirs. Although the memoirs never gained the worldwide esteem that Where the Crawdads Sing reached, the Owens family still found themselves in the center of some very unwanted attention. 

Photo by: William Campbell
Delia and Mark Owens embrace as they stand in North Luangwa National Park, Zamibia, in 1990.

In 1995, the Owens family (Delia, Mark, and Mark’s son from a previous marriage, Christopher) were being filmed by an ABC film crew who were helping to produce a segment regarding their conservation work in Zambia on a program called Turning Point. Yet it was not the conservation work that ended up going viral. Instead, a blurry video aired on national television that showed an African poacher who ends up being shot down by Delia’s step son Christopher and eventually other members of the conservation group’s party. The cameraman and other sources who witnessed that fateful day in the desert, claim that Mark Owens went on to hide the body by dumping it in a lake so that no evidence could be linked to their group. However, these claims are highly contested by the Owens family and have never come to fruition. In addition, “The American Embassy warned the Owenses not to enter Zambia until the controversy was resolved,” according to Jeffrey Goldberg, author of The Hunted, an 18,000 word short story that recounts the events that took place during the Owens’ time in Africa. 

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.””

— New York Times

So what exactly does an obscure murder in an isolated African savanna have to do with a national best seller? Some readers fear that they may be connected. The trouble is, Where the Crawdads Sing is centered around “the marsh girl”, Kya, who lives in an isolated part of the marshes of North Carolina, and suspiciously becomes involved with the murder of a popular boy in the nearest town. Sound familiar? The New York Times describes it as “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.” And while Owens has denied that any details from the book were acquired from her time in Africa, many believe that there are peculiar connections between the murder that occured in Africa in 1995 and the fictional killing that occurs in the novel. Of course, we’ll let you read the book to decipher those correlations for yourself. 

 For many, this controversy with one of the most popular books in the last five years is a complete repellant from both the book and the movie. Still it’s important to note that the conservation work that the Owens did in Africa was both important and appreciated. Standing up to poachers and large institutions across the world is an admirable feat regardless, and perhaps more gratitude should be expressed to the Owens for their contributions. 

Either way, we encourage you to form your own opinions about the situation. Should celebrities like Taylor Swift be getting involved with new projects like this, even when they are afflicted with confusion? Or is it finally time to put a 25 year-old conflict to rest?