SHE LIT: Controversy Mars ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ Film 🎬

📚 Join the #shelitbookclub on July 31 as we discuss the novel Red Clocks by Leni Zumas amid the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Details can be found here.

Film poster for "Where the Crawdads Sing"

Delia Owens’ alleged involvement in killing resurfaces as movie aims for box office gold

Where the Crawdads Sing became a runaway hit in 2018. Now, it’s getting the book-to-film treatment with its theater-only premiere this Friday. But the author’s past is creeping back into cyberspace while the filmmakers including celebrity book club queen Reese Witherspoon are getting the side eye for supporting the book after the allegations came to light.

Delia Owens wrote nonfiction books about wildlife conservation with her now-estranged husband Mark Owens. They lived and worked in different African countries with Mark’s son Christopher Owens. Their second book focused on their battles against elephant poachers. In 1995, an alleged poacher or trespasser was killed while the Owens lived in Zambia protecting elephants, according to media reports. And the killing was taped by ABC News, but the shooter was offscreen.

Zambian investigators say the Owens family members are still wanted for questioning in the killing, including the Where the Crawdads Sing author, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic broke this week, also tweeting that ABC News should also be considered involved for failing to report the killing. The same week Where the Crawdads Sing opens in theaters.

The Owens couple and their work to protect wildlife against poachers gained ABC News’ attention at the time, which turned into filming the family for the Turning Point newsmagazine show. Critics have accused the couple of acting as White saviors with taking the dangerous issue into their own hands and blaming African poachers and African officials for the decrease in the elephant population. The person who was killed has never been identified.

The novel about a “Marsh Girl” living on North Carolina’s coast turned murder suspect drum up similarities with the author as Delia has told media outlets that it’s pure fiction based on her experiences living in remote areas.

"Where the Crawdads Sing" book cover

In the current media circus around the Where the Crawdads Sing film, Delia is posting on Instagram official and behind-the-scenes promotional images from the film.

Reese Witherspoon and her Hello Sunshine company are credited as a producer. Via Reese’s Book Club, the actress/producer/celebrity bookwoman is promoting a giveaway for the film in partnership with Anheuser-Busch that includes four movie tickets, a book club tote bag, a Budweiser T-shirt and hat, and a Stella Artois lunch bag and bandana.

The book is reigning at number one on The New York Times best-sellers list for paperback trade fiction.

The publisher G.P. Putnam’s Sons under Penguin Random House knew at the end of the day the target audience of White female readers would overlook the author’s alleged ties to poaching and a killing in Zambia.

Screenwriter Lucy Alibar was asked about the killing by Time, but she said she was not familiar with it. Sony, the film’s distributor, canceled scheduled press interviews with Delia, Reese, and the film’s star Daisy Edgar-Jones after the interview with the screenwriter, according to Time. Even Taylor Swift is feeling the heat from fans for recording a song for the movie’s soundtrack.

A similar phenomenon happened in 2020 with Jeanine Cummins. The author, who identifies as White Latina, saw her runaway hit American Dirt receive harsh criticism from Hispanic and Latine literary communities as they argued the story was an inaccurate, offensive portrayal of Mexican life and immigration to the U.S. The novel still zoomed to number one on best-sellers lists with backing from the original celebrity book club queen: Oprah Winfrey.

The publishing industry is dominated by White women, according to recent reports tracking diversity, equity, and inclusion in publishing, so the average readers in mind for many acquired books tend to be White women.

Even at Penguin Random House, 75% of the publishing giant’s contributors identify as White, reveals the company’s recent audit. That means the majority of its authors, illustrators, and other creatives are White like 74% of non-warehouse employees at PRH, a workforce demographics report breaks down.

So, while the drama in Zambia is being portrayed by some as a Black-and-White issue, an author like Delia Owens can still be published and see unfathomable success as she remains at-large for questioning in an unsolved killing and in connection to other possible criminal activities abroad.

To unshroud this controversy from your name, wouldn’t you want to comply with authorities to end the doubt, or would your freedom be too much at risk? It seems like the author is doing just fine with the decades-long distance from her and the controversy, but it remains to be seen how moviegoers will be influenced by the old revelations.

she lit editor + chief content creator

Subscribe to the she lit newsletter!

What’s on the blog

THE PROUD FAMILY: LOUDER AND PROUDER - “New Kids on the Block” (Disney)

‘Proud Family: Louder and Prouder’ Reboot Champions Black Literature

What we’re highlighting

HarperCollins schedules one-day strike over unfair wages

The union at HarperCollins Publishers in the U.S. announced this week its 250+ members plan to strike on July 20. In a tweet, the union wrote its members are “striking for fair wages, stronger diversity commitments, and union rights.”

Last week, the union publicized its plan to coordinate a strike after it accused HarperCollins of not paying mostly women livable wages, especially in New York where most employees reside, and not delivering on its promise to boost diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Singer Ashanti debuts her kids’ book about loving your name

Marking 20 years since her eponymous debut album, R&B singer Ashanti is on a book tour discussing her new book for early readers. Published by HarperCollins and illustrated by Monica Mikai, My Name is a Story celebrates Ashanti’s unique name and shows the struggle of explaining the meaning of her name as a child.

Earlier this year, the singer was accused of plagiarism by author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow who wrote a book titled Your Name Is A Song under Innovation Press. That story is also about a young Black girl whose name is constantly mispronounced and how she learns to love her name.

Romance novelists team up for weekly newsletter

Georgia Clark and Hannah Orenstein have launched “Heartbeat,” a Substack newsletter featuring original romance fiction from the “best romance writers authors today.” All types of love will be recognized from familial to platonic, according to the message on the newsletter’s landing page. Both writers, who have had their books published by Simon & Schuster and live in New York, designated Friday mornings for the curated newsletter to drop into inboxes starting July 22.

What we’re reviewing

"Speak" by Tunde Oyeneyin book cover

What we’re reading

What we’re watching

Apply for bookish job

Want your book and bookish news to be featured? Write us at

Forward this newsletter to friends!

%d bloggers like this: