Verse With Virginia Roots

by Becca Evans


SUMMARY: When a car accident made Amber McBride (‘10) realize that she needed to change some things, she dug deeply into her first love: writing. A poet, professor, Hoodoo practitioner, and award-nominated author who calls Virginia home, her debut young adult novel in verse, Me (Moth), is just the beginning.

Amber McBride (‘10) is a poet, professor, Hoodoo practitioner, and award-nominated author who calls Virginia home. Originally a pre-med student at JMU, McBride switched to English with minors in Creative Writing and African, African American, and Diaspora Studies. The reason for the switch? A car accident.


“I got into a car accident, had to go to the hospital. It wasn't that serious, but what if it was more serious?” McBride said. “What if I just didn't do the thing I wanted to do?” She can laugh now about the most nerve-racking part of the transition — telling her parents — but she knew she’d need their support. McBride’s parents are her best friends, and she credits them for at least part of her decision to attend JMU because they met here as first-generation students.

After graduating, McBride went to Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts to earn her MFA  with a concentration in poetry, and then found herself drawn back to Virginia. She returned to JMU to work with Furious Flower Poetry Center as a media assistant, and five years later she started as a general faculty member in the English department at the University of Virginia. Through every move, McBride was writing. 

“I'm always writing. I don't care how bad my first drafts are, I just have to get them out.” McBride  always has ideas for new stories, resulting in a veritable library of her finished work. “It’s my go-to thing. When I start something new, I have to finish it.” The dedication she has to her craft is certainly paying off for McBride, whose debut young adult novel Me (Moth) hit shelves this past August. 


The book follows Moth, the granddaughter of a Hoodoo root worker who is grieving the death of her family and feels invisible in the world. When she meets Sani, a Navajo boy who seems to be the only person who really sees her, they embark on a road trip of self-discovery and first love that unearths their family roots.

Me (Moth) had seen some buzz even before it hit shelves, but it took off when it was announced as a finalist for the 2021 National Book Awards for Young People’s Literature, a prestigious literary award that celebrates the best of American literature every year. The book was still over eight months out from its release when her publisher nominated it, so McBride hadn’t expected to make the longlist, let alone be named a finalist. Now, the book is up for another prominent industry award: the 2022 William C. Morris Award, which honors first-time authors writing for teens.

Publishing is a long game industry. McBride had pitched her work to over 150 literary agents before finally getting signed, and manuscripts for three different books were rejected by more than 50 editors before Me (Moth) sold to its publisher in early 2020. “Rejections don't mean that you're not an excellent writer,” McBride says, “You just have to remember it only takes one yes.” 

To her former professors, the recognition McBride is seeing now was inevitable. “I was convinced even when I had her in my Life Writing class that she had a special literary gift,” said Dr. Gabbin, director of Furious Flower. “Me (Moth) holds you like a gentle haint, pulling you in and out of song, and dance, and dreams until you are not sure where reality ends and memory begins. McBride has written a marvelous novel in verse full of ancestor wisdom/love that traverses crossroads that we must navigate to live.”


Another of McBride’s professors, Inman Majors, feels similarly. “McBride's recent success as a writer comes as no surprise to anyone lucky enough to have her as a student. Her talent, ambition, and work ethic were in evidence from the very beginning. Amber is a true class act and the quintessence of the best that JMU has to offer.”

Professors like Gabbin and Majors were the highlight of McBride’s JMU experience alongside late nights in Carrier Library’s stacks and sunny days spent on the quad. “The professors at JMU make such a difference in students' lives. They really care about their students and advocate for them, and as a teacher now, I've brought that same kind of thing to my students.” McBride said. 

She teaches three classes a semester at UVA, and works with younger students as often as she can through school visits and workshops. She has done several virtual school visits since Me (Moth) was released and they have quickly become one of her favorite things about being an author. When she gets to see young adults resonating with the book that she wrote for them, from their perspective, it’s awe-inspiring. She doesn’t think she’ll ever get enough of it.

With Me (Moth) taking flight, looking forward brings even more cause for celebration: McBride has two more books releasing in 2023, and is editing an upcoming poetry anthology that features a stunning roundup of New York Times best-selling authors scheduled for 2024, and has an adult poetry collection coming out in 2024 as well. 


Through all the success and opportunities, McBride returns to her family to give credit where it is due. Her mother is her first reader and most honest critic. McBride dedicated Me (Moth) to her grandfather, who helped bring her closer to Hoodoo and unfortunately passed away before the book was published.

With her words, McBride helps her readers connect with something beyond themselves. She even chose to record her own audiobook for Me (Moth) so it would be available sooner for one of her cousins, who is blind.  Her belief in the transformative power of language and her drive to make it accessible to all is a brilliant illustration of McBride’s passion: unreserved and fearless.

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Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 11, 2022

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