Catherine Danielle Clark: Kya’s Real Identity Revealed

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Catherine Danielle Clark in Where the Crawdads Sing? How does she come to learn about her identity?

In Where the Crawdads Sing, main character Kya discovers that her full name is Catherine Danielle Clark. After spending her childhood isolated and alone in a marsh, Kya is excited to have her identity, and be able to pursue her passions. Kya eventually writes and illustrates books on wildlife proudly using her full name, Catherine Danielle Clark.

Kya Becomes Catherine Danielle Clark

Tate taught Kya how to read sitting on a log near the beach. He brought old grammar books from school and worked with her on the alphabet. She learned to write each letter and make their sounds. Slowly and patiently (Tate was always so patient), she was able to form words and sound others out. 

When she was finally able to read a whole sentence by herself, Kya beamed. Not only could she now read, but she’d never known that words could be put together to create meaning. The way she lit up made something inside Tate light up, as well.

Shortly after Kya learned to read, she asked Tate what came after twenty-nine. She was finally going to get her answer. Tate helped her learn to count higher, showing her all the different numbers and groupings. He never made her feel stupid during any of those lessons. 

With her new skills, Kya labeled her specimens with the proper names and read everything she could get her hands on. One night, she opened the old Bible and saw the names of all the family members and their birthdates written inside. For the first time, Kya learned the names of her siblings, the date of her birth, and her full name: Catherine Danielle Clark. 

Catherine Danielle Clark the Author

One morning, she walked to the mailbox and found a large package inside. She opened it and pulled out an advance copy of The Sea Shells of the Eastern Seaboard by Catherine Danielle Clark. Her heart soared at seeing her name on her book, but she had no one to share her joy with. 

After Tate took Kya’s samples to a publisher, Kya had submitted more drawings through the mail. An editor, Robert Foster, allowed the entire interaction to take place through the postal service and sent her a five-thousand-dollar advance for two books: the shell book and another on birds. It was more money than she’d ever thought about. 

Kya’s book felt more like a family album with its pages filled with years of her collections. It sold well, and bookstores all along the Eastern Seaboard displayed it in their windows. Royalty checks started to flood in, sometimes made out for thousands of dollars. 

Kya knew Tate was to thank for pushing her to publish. He’d helped her turn her passion into a career and made it so she never had to dig for mussels to survive again. She sent him a note at the Sea Oaks laboratory, where he now worked. She still didn’t trust Tate, but she extended an offer for him to stop by if he was ever nearby to pick up a copy of the book. 

With the advance, Kya got to work on her shack. She hired a contractor to completely renovate it. He fitted the shack with electricity, indoor plumbing, a water heater, a large bathroom with a sink, tub, and toilet, and a brand-new refrigerator and stove. The only thing that remained of her old home was Ma’s wood stove. She bought new furniture for each room of the house except the kitchen, where the old family table still held court. 

A Bright Future

Tate accepted Kya’s invitation to stop by a day after receiving her letter. When he pulled up in her lagoon, the first time since the rock-throwing Christmas, he waved and gave a small smile. Kya mimicked both gestures. 

Tate marveled about the beauty of her book. He wanted to hug her, but her body language suggested otherwise. Standing on the beach, he thanked her for the book and asked her to sign it. Kya thought about what she could possibly say to Tate. Then, on the front page, she wrote, “To the Feather Boy, Thank you, From the Marsh Girl.” When Tate read the words, he turned to hide his emotions. If only he could hold her. He settled for squeezing her hand. 

Before Tate left, Kya thanked him for helping her the way he did. Kya felt a stirring on one side of her heart, but the other was still locked down tight. She thought maybe she might be able to be his friend or, looking at her book, even his colleague someday.

Later, Kya grabbed another copy of her book and headed to Jumpin’s. When she climbed out of the boat, she placed the book in Jumpin’s hands. He stared at it, not knowing what it was, until she pointed out her name on the cover. She thanked him for all the ways he and Mabel had taken care of her and said that she was finally okay. 

Kya continued to visit Jumpin’s wharf for gas and supplies. She saw her book propped in the window of his store and knew it was the kind of thing a father would do for a daughter he was proud of. 

Barkley Cove was not spared from gentrification over the years. Jumpin’s wharf became an upscale marina, and the little shops on Main Street became boutiques. Grits became polenta, and every establishment was desegregated. Tate worked at the lab for the rest of his career, and Kya published seven more books, all of which won awards. She was given an honorary doctoral degree from UNC but never accepted invitations to speak. 

One afternoon, when Kya was sixty-four, she didn’t return from exploring in her boat. Tate went to search for her and found her lying back in the boat, seeming to be sleeping. When he got closer, fear gripped his heart. He shouted her name, but she didn’t move. Tate pulled her up by the shoulders, her long hair, now stark white, flowed behind her. He screamed his anguish to the sky and held her, rocking back and forth. 

Tate buried Kya below an oak tree near the water. All the people who had once condemned her lined up to pay their respects. They had grown to marvel at the way she had survived and the life she was able to make for herself with everything that had happened. On her tombstone, Tate chose an epitaph he felt represented Kya’s life well. She had become a legend in their community, and her nickname was now distinguished. The tombstone read: “Catherine Danielle Clark, ‘Kya’, The Marsh Girl, 1945–2009.” 

Known as Kya for her entire life, the woman named Catherine Danielle Clark was able to overcome incredible obstacles to become a renown author and wildlife expert. Catherine Danielle Clark may have been “Marsh Girl,” but she learned to live life on her own terms.

Catherine Danielle Clark: Kya’s Real Identity Revealed

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Delia Owens's "Where the Crawdads Sing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Where the Crawdads Sing summary:

  • How Kya Clark's abandonment as a child affected her through her entire life
  • How Kya discovered love despite steep obstacles
  • The murder trial that embroiled Kya's town, and the ultimate truth behind the murder

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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