11 Questions: Wayétu Moore, Writer, Thinker and Publisher

Wayétu Moore is the Publisher of One Moore Book. She produces and publishes children’s books specifically focusing on kids in countries with low literacy rates. Moore graduated with a BA, Journalism from Howard University, subsequently receiving a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. As the former editor of “The Coup Magazine”, her objective was “UNIFYING WOMEN OF COLOR” through social and political consciousness. Her work can be found in Guernica Magazine, The Atlantic Magazine, Gawker, The Huffington Post and Waxwing Literary Journal, among others. Her writings can also be read in the respected online publication Conversations on Liberia. She is based in Brooklyn, NY.

1. You seem to be on a mission with One Moore Book. The publication has plans to produce books around the world, Bolivia, Afghanistan and Haiti included, but more than that you have published fine Liberian writers such as Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, Robtel Neajai Pailey and Stephanie C. Horton.

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. Our books also serve the dual purpose of giving children here a glimpse of countries they may never have an opportunity to visit. One Moore Book has published 19 books so far for the children of Liberia, Haiti and Guinea. An Afro Brazilian feature will be published this spring. We commission writers and illustrators from the featured countries and for the Liberia Signature Series I was honored to work with the writers you listed. I have learned so much from each of them and I’m forever grateful that they contributed to this project.

2. Do you envision One Moore Book ever publishing other genres— children books included? 2a. What do you hope to accomplish as a writer looking back years from now since you seems to write just about anything: critically acclaimed essays, short stories, plays, poems and of course children’s books.

In the long term I imagine we could possibly branch out into other genres. The Young Adult genre is certainly an organic next step. My current focus, and what I imagine I’ll be working on for some time in the future, is publishing more culturally relative children’s books for children. (2a) As a writer, I hope that everything I write gives depth, context and poetry to untold narratives. I have a novel I’ve been working on for a while, as well as a memoir. I just want to write. I try not to think too hard about where that will take me.

3. In your Huffington Post article in 2011, you paid a tribute to your parents by writing, that you would repay their sacrifice by honoring the education they fought to give you, saying in effect you would offer your “art to the world, with stories that make the histories and narratives of my people come alive, with words to live by and a legacy I promise I will not disappoint.” Huge…

Thank you. I hope to follow through on that. It can be challenging in an industry that considers my truth unrealistic. The publishing industry has very specific ideas about what people of a certain race or gender should be writing, so it isn’t always easy getting work out there. Because of that, I am always grateful when a publication is open to sharing my truth and opinions with their audience. I am also grateful to create such spaces, as an indie publisher.

4. In your Guernica Magazine piece, “The Evolution of Bernice,” you seem to be crying out for justice, also with a self-confession that you have found yourself and proud of your African and Liberian heritage.

I am very proud of being African and Liberian. My heritage is a part of everything I do.

5. The recent events in Ferguson Missouri, New York City and other cities around the United States as far as race relations is concerned and especially the police has certainly awaken passions and led to protests.

Racism in America is devastating and it took me a long time to recognize it, both blatant and microaggressive forms, for what it is. Protest is so powerful. There are many, even black people, who condemn protests as an ineffective route and I don’t understand that criticism, especially now. Protest raises awareness and it encourages solidarity for a given cause. Even though changes are not immediately evident, it sends a message to a governing body that something is wrong. Protest is fundamental. It is a first step toward change.

6. What must be done to improve holistically the educational system in Liberia? One Moore Book is already making efforts and strides by publishing books to educate children by grooming the next generation of leaders, but when 25thousand students failed to make a passing mark on a university entrance test, something must be wrong with post war Liberia and its effort to educate its citizens, don’t you think?

I think a lot of the issues in our education system stem from issues with language. Liberians have an estranged relationship with language. Before the war, Western English was the standard. After the war and the mashup of slang that arrived with those who were in refugee camps in bordering countries, and elements of indigenous languages from the interior, Liberian English became something totally different than what it used to be pre-war. Not only is this a difference that is spoken, but it’s a difference that is seen in writing and grammatical choices among students throughout the country. So that’s where the problem lies. We are still grading and assessing progress based on western standards without consideration of the new standards and academic implementation of language that surfaced after the war. The first step is to formalize a Liberian English or Liberian Pidgin, then establish some sort of translation system for Pidgin to Western English. I think that will greatly assist with comprehension of text, and we may see scores improve.

7. You also belong to the theatre and published a play in 2004, which saw a Broadway production; you are such a commanding writer, which writers and artists inspire you?

I no longer belong to any theater group. I did produce a play in 2004 but that seems so long ago now. I hope to return to theater and acting one day, but for now writing is my focus. I am inspired by many, many writers. I’m a fan of Octavia Butler, Edwidge Danticat, Zadie Smith and other exceptional black women writers. I love speculative fiction—my fiction pieces fall into that category. I’ve also been reading a lot of Japanese fiction lately.

8. Africans in the wider diaspora has suffered a lot of stereotypes and most times from other blacks, you referenced this in your 2014 Gawker article: How Ebola Became the Oldest Story about Africa. You called out Eddie Murphy’s [Raw 1980] and specifically Jay-Z, with these foul Lines in which most Africans felt insulted in his Girls Girls Girls song:

I got this African chick with Eddie Murphy on her skull

She like, “Jigga Man, why you treat me like animal?”
I’m like excuse me Ms. Fufu,
but when I met your assyou was dead broke and naked,
and now you want half…

When that song came out, I thought what the hell…scarcely then were there any protests about this disrespect to Africans and African women. Your article broke the silence and the injustice meted…

It’s interesting because Africans relate culturally to African-Americans in many ways. Music is one of those ways. Regardless of our differences, music is our common heritage. So when I heard those lyrics in a genre form and from an artist with a shared heritage, it was my introduction to the disconnect (that usually surfaces through stereotypes) between the groups.

9. Yet in the Smugger, you revealed in 2011 a wide musical taste and your depth about hip hop paying tribute to Rap music, ala: A Portrait of a Rapper as a Poet…

I love the musical genre. I think hip hop is beautiful and the original artists were quite talented writers and thinkers.

10. BET listed you amongst its 20 young people destine for greatness, and some say Wayétu Moore is the next notable writer from Western Africa…

Wow, that’s a lot of pressure. There are many young writers/painters/musicians/actors/singers emerging from West Africa right now. We are the cross-cultural generation and many of us have spent our lives balancing two identities: that of home and that of our birth (or parent’s) country. The internal dialogue around identity breeds creativity. My generation is a special one and I’m happy to be a part of this class of West African artists.

11. What does Wayétu Moore do for leisure and any last thoughts?

I spend a lot of time exploring New York. It can get easy as a writer to become reclusive and stay indoors, especially during winter, but I make efforts to explore my surroundings. Museums, plays, concerts, all of those things inform my art.

Thank you Ms. Moore for granting The Liberian Listener this interview…

Thank you so much for your support of my work. It means so much to me.

Wayétu Moore pic:

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