Wayétu Moore (MA ’19) on Writing Novels and Leading Nonprofits

Moore, Wayeětu (Yoni Levy).jpg

Wayétu Moore is finishing up her master’s degree in the Anthropology program at Teachers College this year. While that will certainly be an exciting accomplishment, not much can compare to the thrills of 2018. Last year, Graywolf Press published Wayétu’s debut novel, She Would Be King, which earned the praise of Time Magazine, the New York Times, and the New Yorker, among others. We got the chance to ask Wayétu a few questions about her writing, her studies, and her work leading a nonprofit. Hope you enjoy!

Congratulations on your novel! What has your life been like since the book came out?

Thank you! It feels surreal, frightening, manic, exhausting and beautiful. In the fall I was on the road constantly, and it’s only just slowed down. When I begin to get tired, I remember how much I’ve wanted this over the years. I am grateful.

Why did you decide to write this story?

 My family moved to America when I was 5 years old. Growing up, I didn’t hear much about Liberia outside of my home, and the absence was affecting, especially since I was aware that Liberian history was so closely linked to American history. So when I realized I wanted to be an artist, and began to write, Liberia was one of the first places I went to. It was also a way for me to reconnect with my cultural identity.

You could be totally focused on literature right now, but you’re still studying International and Comparative Education at Teachers College. What keeps you motivated to continue your studies?

Admittedly, it’s been hard to balance my career and an education that seems peripheral to my current trajectory, but I’m at the end of the road and proud that I stuck through. Other than my writing, I run a non-profit that publishes books for underrepresented readers. My non-profit is my bottom line and my true passion, and my time at TC speaks directly to its mission. That keeps me motivated.

Besides the novel and your studies, you’re also leading a nonprofit, One Moore Book. Can you tell us about that project?

While I was in undergrad I worked for an organization named Everybody Wins and I would go in to District of Columbia public schools and facilitate literacy workshops for 3-5thgraders who could not read. What I noticed right away was that there was a disinterest in literature so I began to take them books with characters that looked like them, familiar names, foods, etc. The engagement immediately increased. That experience remained with me when I moved to New York after graduate school in Los Angeles, where I attended USC for my first master’s degree in creative writing. I always had an interest in social entrepreneurship.  As a fiction writer I was navigating the literary canon myself, but knew I wanted to do something on my own. The goal of the company is to provide books to children who rarely see themselves in books. So children of countries with low literacy rates and also underrepresented cultures in the United States. We are distributed through NGOs and Ministries of Education in these countries, and in the US we’re distributed through Scholastic Book Clubs.

Do you have any advice for prospective students who also share your interests in literature and social justice?

Every sector, every profession and almost every industry has its share of injustice, so there will always be a gap that needs to be filled. Even in art. I think sometimes we forget the intersectional nature of art and the social sciences, so I would tell them to pay attention to the instances where the two collide and try to dissect those. There’s power and opportunity there.

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