The Tom Wolfe Weekend Seminar: "Where the Crawdads Sing" April 26-27, 2019

This year marks the 16th annual Tom Wolfe Weekend Seminar, W&L's ultimate book club. Sponsored by the W&L Class of 1951 in honor of their late classmate Tom Wolfe, the program honors a distinguished writer and observer of the American scene. Last year's program featured Hampton Sides and his best-selling In the Kingdom of Ice, a narrative history of the USS Jeannette's ill-fated attempt on the North Pole. This year, we turn to Delia Owens' critically acclaimed debut novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, described by The New York Times Book Review as "Painfully beautiful . . . At once a murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative, and a celebration of nature."

Set in the coastal marshlands of North Carolina's Outer Banks during the 1950s, Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of Kya Clark, a young girl abandoned by her parents, who must fend for herself in extremely impoverished circumstances. Delia Owens' account of how the girl learns to thrive on what nature provides helps to open the marshes to bounty as well as beauty. An award-winning nature writer, Owens uses the keen eye of a naturalist to see a cornucopia of wonders in what otherwise might seem a bleak and inhospitable landscape, especially to a child. But as the child grows into young womanhood, Owens also understands other natural forces. Kya's curiosity about other people from a nearby community and her eventual awakening to love drive this coming-of-age story toward a compelling mystery. The narrative is superbly crafted, the characters deftly drawn, and the prose lyrical and bright. As a debut novel, the achievement is quite extraordinary.

Delia Owens is the coauthor of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa: Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and Secrets of the Savanna. She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, the African Journal of Ecology, and International Wildlife, among many other publications. She currently lives in Idaho.

Joining Delia Owens in the program are Lena Hill, dean of the College and professor of English, and Mikki Brock, associate professor of history. Each will discuss Where the Crawdads Sing from a variety of perspectives. What does the novel tell us about courage, the human longing for community, and family life? What does it reveal about the complex beauty of otherwise forbidding environments? How well does Where the Crawdads Sing conform to the conventions of a good murder mystery? And, ultimately, what moved Delia Owens to write in this new genre and an entirely new setting? The discussion of these questions and more should make for a most illuminating seminar.