Q&A: Wayetu Moore, social entrepreneur on increasing literacy through multi-cultural content
Wayetu Moore, 27, is founder and publisher of One Moore Book, a publisher of culturally sensitive children's books that snared the award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat to write a Haitian-themed children's book. Moore lives and works in Prospect Heights.
What would you most like to change about NYC?
Besides improving literacy? I'd love to see Joe's Crab Shack up here. It's a chain, and I know people hate chains, but it has really savory, well-seasoned and affordable seafood.
So many celebrities - and other people - who would never sit down and pen a novel all seem to think they can write children's books. How come?
My motivations had to do very specifically to do with improving literacy and cultural sensitivity. For a lot of parents, I think writing a children's book gives them a chance to reach out to their own children. For some celebrities, it's probably about expanding their brands.
So what can New Yorkers do to improve literacy?
Pick up a book and read! Get a book at The Strand! Reading is infectious. If you see everyone on the train reading a book, you'll want to read one, too. I just finished "Buddha in the Attic" by Julia Otsuka. It's really, really, really good.
What advice can you give to other entrepreneurs starting businesses in NYC?
Research everything before you start! I'm more of a social entrepreneur. For every three books we sell, we donate one to LitWorld, an international non-profit which has a very good distribution system to get books to kids around the world. We've done series about kids from Liberia and Haiti and are now working on one for Guinea. Kids there are struggling for dual competencies and many have never seen themselves or their culture on the page. I saw there was a need for multi-cultural books and I never wanted to work for a (commercial) publisher: If you work for a publisher, you have to sell what's trending. If vampires are selling, you have to write about or promote vampire books. People should go into business for the right reasons. Most artists come to NY to be pure and have wide-eyed ambition. That can be corrupted when you try to entwine art with commerce. I think people should stay pure.
What makes a great children's book?
A curious hero or heroine, because exploration always makes for a great story. Having a curious hero or heroine in a children's book encourages curiosity and precociousness in the reader and makes for a well rounded child. Humor can come out of curiosity, too. humor.
How can NYC parents get their kids to read more?
Kids today have very short attention spans. I watch my niece run around from the iPad to the TV. So if you want to get them to sit down for 10 minutes to go over a book, you have to make sure the content is about something they're already interested in. If a kid is really interested in airplanes, you get a book about airplanes.
Do you support mandating the use of multicultural books in the NYC schools?
It's so much easier for immigrant kids to identify themselves in multi-cultural reading materials. A Liberian kid,for example, might not know what a skirt is, but there's a garment that's wrapped around the waist called a "lappa," he or she would identify immediately. But our immigrant community here is so incredibly diverse it's hard to cover everyone from every group. I support mandating the materials to be available and letting teachers use them in instruction at their own discretion. These books can help New York City learn about cultures and children in other countries.
Tell me something about NYC that only you know.
There's this little hole in the wall, a BYOB restaurant in Williamsburg at 112 Berry St. called Juniper. It makes the best jambalaya you'll ever taste.
NYC is the publishing capital of the world. What kind of a future do you predict for the physical book?
We don't have any apps yet, but our books are all digitalized. There's no way to avoid changing times. But printed books will never completely go out of style. There's just something very special about holding a physical book.