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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

Graywolf Literary Salon: Voices for Our Time

Aria in Minneapolis, MNview map

Join us for the Third Annual Graywolf Literary Salon

The 2018 Graywolf Literary Salon: Voices for Our Time will feature Jamel Brinkley (A Lucky Man), Tarfia Faizullah (Registers of Illuminated Villages), and Wayétu Moore (She Would Be King) in conversation with Graywolf Director and Publisher Fiona McCrae and Executive Editor Jeff Shotts. Music will be provided by the Davu Seru Trio.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

105 North First Street
Minneapolis, MN 55401

All proceeds support Graywolf Press, a nonprofit publisher committed to the discovery and energetic publication of twenty-first century American and international literature. Reserve your place today!

  • Bookmark Ticket $35
    • ​Doors open at 7:00pm
    • Includes valet parking, one free drink, and admission to the program
  • Publisher Ticket $160
    • Reception starts at 6:00pm
    • Includes VIP reception with free drinks and delicious appetizers, valet parking, signed books by the featured authors, and admission to the program

Wayétu Moore reading at Housing Works

Housing Works Bookstore in New York, NYview map
In conversation with Yahdon Israel.

Wayétu Moore reading at Politics & Prose at Union Market

Politics & Prose at Union Market in Washington, DCview map

Wayétu Moore reading at Brookline Booksmith

Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MAview map
Part of the Transnational Literature Series at Brookline Booksmith.

Wayétu Moore reading at Changing Hands Bookstore

Changing Hands Bookstore - Phoenix in Phoenix, AZview map

Wayétu Moore reading at Brazos Bookstore

Brazos Bookstore in Houston, TXview map


  • “Moore uses an accomplished, penetrating style—with clever swerves into fantasy—to build effective critiques of tribal misogyny, colonial abuse, and racism.”—Publishers Weekly
  • “An ambitious, genre-hopping, continent-spanning novel. . . . Moore is a brisk and skilled storyteller who weaves her protagonists’ disparate stories together with aplomb.”—Kirkus Reviews
  • “The dialog is fluid and poetic, allowing readers to imagine the events, sights, smells, feelings, and sensations. As with Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, this work will appeal to lovers of African, African American, and literary fiction.”Library Journal, starred review
  • “Stunning. . . . A magical-realism tour de force. . . . There is an aching sweetness to Moore’s writing that effectively captures the dichotomous and vulnerable strength of her protagonists and catapults this into the realm of books that cast a long-lingering spell.”Booklist, starred review
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