2022 nonfiction winner
Wayétu Moore | The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir
About the author
Wayétu Moore is the author of the memoir The Dragons, the Giant, the Women, which was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, and the novel She Would Be King, named a best book of 2018 by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Entertainment Weekly, and BuzzFeed. Her writing can be found in the Paris Review, Guernica, and the Atlantic, among other publications. Moore is a graduate of Howard University, Columbia University, and the University of Southern California.
About the book
When Wayétu Moore turns five in Monrovia, Liberia, all she can think about is how much she misses her mother, who is working and studying in New York. Before she gets the reunion her father promised, war breaks out in Liberia, and her family is forced to flee their home, walking and hiding for weeks until they arrive in the village of Lai. Finally a rebel soldier smuggles them across the border to Sierra Leone, reuniting the family and setting them off on another journey, this time to the United States.
Spanning this harrowing time in Moore’s early childhood, her years adjusting to life in Texas as a Black woman and an immigrant, and her eventual return to Liberia, The Dragons, the Giant, the Women is a deeply moving story of the search for home in the midst of upheaval. Moore shines a light on the great political and personal forces that continue to affect migrants around the world, and calls on us to acknowledge the tenacious power of love and family.
“Immersive, exhilarating. . . . This memoir adds an essential voice to the genre of migrant literature, challenging false popular narratives that migration is optional, permanent and always results in a better life.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“In her bruising new memoir, Moore describes the perilous journey as well as her experience of being a black immigrant living in the American South. Through it all, she threads an urgent narrative about the costs of survival and the strength of familial love.” ―TIME
“The Dragons, the Giant, the Women is a beautifully written book about the experience of migrating―a story, particularly in this moment, that can never be told enough.” ―Bitch Media
“A powerful look at the migrant experience and how its effects reverberate decades into the future.” ―Book Riot
“Riveting and beautifully written. . . . The extraordinary power of [The Dragons, the Giant, the Women] resides not only in [Wayétu Moore’s] flight, but in her survival.” ―National Book Review
“With the same fabled quality of She Would Be King, Moore embraces the fantastical elements of her experiences to weave a story of migration that compels readers to see migration narratives in a new way: as a multidimensional story that comes alive through more than one approach.” ―Hippocampus
“Building to a thrumming crescendo, the pages almost fly past. Readers will be both enraptured and heartbroken by Moore’s intimate yet epic story of love for family and home.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Moore’s narrative style shines, weaving moments of lightness into a story of pain and conflict, family and war, loss and reunion.” ―Library Journal, starred review
I bit down on the ripe plum wedge, and the juice from it oozed out and followed the lines of my lips and jaw until the bottom of my face was completely sticky and wet. I worried that Papa would see me and send me back inside to Korkor or Torma to wipe my face, but he and Pastor had already resumed a conversation about a man whose name I heard at least once a day.
“But Doe has spoiled the country. Liberia spoiled‐oh,” Pastor said, shaking his head.
“It’s not spoiled. Two more years the man’s gone. A new president will come.”
“He will rig the thing like he rigged the last one. Everybody fighting, everybody wants to be president. Everybody says they president,” Pastor continued.
“Yeh, the country spoiled. Sam Doe spoiled it,” Moneysweet agreed from the corner of the deck before shoving another slice of plum in his mouth.
I asked Ol’ Ma who this man was, Samuel Doe, whose name I heard once a day, and she told me he was president of Liberia. Every time I listened to people talk about this man, it reminded me of the Hawa Undu dragon, the monster in my dreams, the sum of stories I was too young to hear. The Hawa Undu dragon was once a prince with good intentions, who entered the forest to avenge the death of his family, all buried now in the hills of Bomi County. He was a handsome prince, tall with broad shoulders, high cheeks, and coarse hands marked by the victory of his battles. He entered the forest and told the people that he would kill the dragons who left mountains of ashes in Buchanan and Virginia, who left poisoned eggs in Careysburg and Kakata. But the prince became a dragon himself. One with asymmetrical teeth, taloned elbows, and paper‐thin eyes. One with a crooked back, coarse like the hollows of the iron mines where many sons were still lost, always dying. One rich enough to fly, yet too poor to know where to go. He humbugged the animals, killed for food, forgot his promises. And now, Hawa Undu was president of Liberia, once a prince with good intentions. Ol’ Ma said everybody was talking about him because there was another prince who wanted to enter the forest and kill Hawa Undu, to restore peace. This prince was named Charles, like my Ol’ Pa. Some thought he would be the real thing—that he could kill Hawa Undu and put an end to the haunting of the forest and the spirit princes who danced throughout—but others feared he would be the same, that no prince could enter the forest and keep his intentions. The woods will blind, will blunder. Hawa Undu would never die.