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She Would Be King

A Novel
Wayétu Moore
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.

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A novel of exhilarating range, magical realism, and history—a dazzling retelling of Liberia’s formation

About the Author

Wayétu  Moore
Credit: Yoni Levy
Wayétu Moore is the founder of One Moore Book and is a graduate of Howard University, Columbia University, and the University of Southern California. She teaches at the City University of New York’s John Jay College and lives in Brooklyn.
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Upcoming Events

Wayétu Moore reading at Mid-Manhattan Library at 42nd Street as part of Mid-Sentence: Writers in Conversation

Mid-Manhattan Library in New York, NYview map
In conversation with Isaac Fitzgerald. Please register for this free event.

Wayétu Moore reading as part of the Franklin Park Reading Series

Franklin Park Bar and Beer Garden in Brooklyn, NYview map
Reading with Idra Novey, Maria Dahvana Headley, Erica Dawson, and Camille Perri.

Wayétu Moore reading at the Strand Bookstore as part of PEN Out Loud Series

Strand Book Store in New York, NYview map
"Lest We Forget," a reading and conversation with Amitava Kumar and Ingrid Rojas Contreras. Moderated by Rakesh Satyal. Tickets are $15.

Wayétu Moore reading at Brazos Bookstore

Brazos Bookstore in Houston, TXview map


  • “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.”—TIME
  • “[A] bold début. . . . The force and the symbolism of myth pervade Moore’s engrossing tale.”—The New Yorker
  • “Fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez will be intrigued by this debut novel, a reimagining of Liberia’s infancy in the 19th century.”—Harper’s Bazaar
  • “Poetic and pulsing with action.”Redbook
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