Liberian writer Wayetu Moore‘s debut novel is out. Published in September by Graywolf Press, She Would Be King is a blend of historical fiction and magical realism that retells the formation of Liberia. The book was named “A Most Anticipated Book for 2018” by both The Millions and The Rumpus, and has attracted praise from The New York Times, TIME, Marie Claire, and seen comparison to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s fiction by Harper’s Bazaar.
A graduate of Howard University, Columbia University, and the University of Southern California, Wayétu Moore is the founder of One Moore Book, a children’s literature initiative that publishes culturally relevant books and creates bookstores in Liberia. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, Frieze Magazine, Guernica, and The Atlantic. She has been featured in The Economist, NPR, NBC, BET, ABC, and in OkayAfrica‘s 100 Women list for 2017, for her work in advocacy for diversity in children’s literature. Moore is currently an Africana Studies lecturer at City University of New York’s John Jay College and a Margaret Mead Fellow at Columbia University Teachers College, where she researches the impact of culturally relevant curriculum and learning aids in elementary classrooms of underrepresented groups. She lives in Brooklyn.
Wayétu Moore’s powerful debut novel, She Would Be King, reimagines the dramatic story of Liberia’s early years through three unforgettable characters who share an uncommon bond. Gbessa, exiled from the West African village of Lai, is starved, bitten by a viper, and left for dead, but still she survives. June Dey, raised on a plantation in Virginia, hides his unusual strength until a confrontation with the overseer forces him to flee. Norman Aragon, the child of a white British colonizer and a Maroon slave from Jamaica, can fade from sight at will, just as his mother could. When the three meet in the settlement of Monrovia, their gifts help them salvage the tense relationship between the African American settlers and the indigenous tribes, as a new nation forms around them.
Moore’s intermingling of history and magical realism finds voice not just in these three characters but also in the fleeting spirit of the wind, who embodies an ancient wisdom. “If she was not a woman,” the wind says of Gbessa, “she would be king.” In this vibrant story of the African diaspora, Moore, a talented storyteller and a daring writer, illuminates with radiant and exacting prose the tumultuous roots of a country inextricably bound to the United States. She Would Be King is a novel of profound depth set against a vast canvas and a transcendent debut from a major new author.
The reviews have been loud:
From The New York Times:
“Moore skillfully reconsiders the idealism of the early African-American settlers through their interactions with the indigenous peoples and braids together intimate story lines centered around universal themes: falling in love, defying familial expectations and the difficulties of doing the right thing.”
“Reading Wayétu Moore’s debut novel, She Would Be King, feels a lot like watching a superb athlete’s performance. . . . [Moore] has tapped into her own backstory—and emerged with literary superpowers.”
From Harper’s Bazaar:
“Fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez will be intrigued by this debut novel, a reimagining of Liberia’s infancy in the 19th century.”
“Poetic and pulsing with action.”
From Marie Claire:
“This compelling debut novel by Wayétu Moore blends historical fiction with magical realism in an exhilarating tale of the formation of Liberia. Moore effortlessly weaves the threads of indigenous West African tribes, American and Caribbean slavery, and British colonialism together to tell the creation story of a new nation, complete with unforgettable characters and a dynamic voice.”
The arrival and reception of She Would Be King is beautiful news, particularly as Moore is Liberian and there aren’t many writers from the country who are well known on the continent (The best-known at the moment is the terrific Hawa Jande Golakai).
We will be bringing you more on Wayetu Moore and She Would Be King. Congratulations to Moore.