In Wayetu Moore’s well-reviewed memoir, “The Dragons, The Giant, The Women,” she recounts her family’s harrowing escape from the first Liberian civil war and the challenges of making a new life in the United States (the book comes out in paperback June 15). Moore is also the author of the 2018 novel “She Would Be King.” She founded and runs One More Book, which publishes books for children in countries with low literacy rates. In 2015 she opened the first bookstore in Monrovia dedicated to pleasure reading. She lives in New York City with her husband and infant daughter.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
MOORE: I have been finishing my sophomore novel. When I’m working on a book I read a lot of poetry. I’ve been reading a lot of my friends, such as Philip Williams and Jericho Brown. I’m also a fan of Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Nikki Giovanni. I was raised on Bible stories so every once in a while I go back to the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. I find solace in those words as well.
BOOKS: When will you return to reading fiction?
MOORE: I have read some novels while writing, such as Sulaiman Addonia’s “Silence Is My Mother’s Tongue,” which was really beautiful, and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s “A Girl Is a Body of Water.” There’s no expounding on her cultural experience for a Western reader. It’s just telling her story on her own terms. I find that inspiring.
BOOKS: Do you read largely contemporary fiction?
MOORE: It’s a mixture. I always feel like I’m catching up on literature by African writers from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, such as the Liberian writers Bai T. Moore and Wilton Sankawulo. These are names I grew up with but didn’t fully explore until my adulthood. I also want to know what is being published now.
BOOKS: When did you start reading African literature?
MOORE: It would have to be in my early 20s. I was raised hearing stories, so the oral tradition was always present in my life but I was raised in Texas where I attended public schools. In high school we read books like Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” In graduate school I picked up Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” Then I asked my dad what else should I read and got suggestions from friends.
BOOKS: Are there books you think do a good job of reflecting the migrant experience?
MOORE: Honestly, some of those books are triggering for me so I have not actively read nonfiction books about the migrant experience. I would say I indulge in film a bit more. There are Liberian contemporary writers like Agnes Kamara-Umanna, who do a beautiful job of telling the story of the war but those are exceptions for me. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah,” is an immigration story but it does not involve social political conflict, which is what I avoid.
BOOKS: Was any book especially influential for you?
MOORE: I read Richard Wright’s “Black Boy” when I was studying theater at New York University. I remember closing the book thinking I want to write fiction. Reading it was a very cerebral experience. I realized that before then I hadn’t really read. Later, Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” had a similar affect on me.
BOOKS: How has your bookstore in Monrovia fared during the pandemic?
MOORE: Unfortunately I had to shut it down last November. People were going through such economically challenged time that rodents were coming out and eating the books. The area became unsafe so we had to close early, and by then people leaving work couldn’t come. I donated our inventory to a school up country, and I am actively looking for another location.
BOOKS: Have you been reading to your infant daughter?
MOORE: I think I started a bit early. I read what I was reading for myself out loud while I was pregnant. I read things like the legend of Sundiata, who was an African king. It was a good exercise. At six weeks, she would look at the pages when I opened a book. I think she’ll have a healthy relationship with literature.