After her stunning performances at the 2021 Inauguration and Super Bowl, twenty-two-year-old poet Amanda Gorman is not someone we are likely to forget anytime soon. Her breathtaking poem The Hill We Climb called on the nation for meaningful unity, growth, peace, and justice. In the aftermath of four years of retrogression, a history of ceaseless oppression, and recently, white violence storming the nation’s capital, Gorman refuses to give up hope for a future of love and change, calling America: “a nation that isn’t broken / but simply unfinished.” Gorman herself has become a symbol of hope for many people, as Michelle Obama pointed out during their Time Magazine interview earlier this month. However, she is far more than a symbol; she is an extraordinary young woman whose strength, passion, and bravery remind us that with people like her fighting on the front lines of change, amelioration is both possible and inevitable.
After the inaugural speech that sent chills down my spine and still hasn’t left my mind, I become more and more impressed with Amanda Gorman with every new thing I learn about her. Though she is only one year older than me, the Harvard-grad’s accomplishments are as far-reaching as her voice. The self-proclaimed “wordsmith” and “change-maker” is the youngest inaugural poet, the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, a published author of three collections with more on the way, and a writer for the New York Times among other esteemed publications. Meanwhile, she is using her voice in conjunction with the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for freedom from white oppression, to induce change and progress. She told Michelle Obama: “Poetry and language are often at the heartbeat of movements for change,” and indeed her strong, poetic voice refuses to be ignored.
While her popularity is huge and sudden, the path that led Gorman to the national stage was neither easy nor accidental. In her poem, she self describes as “a skinny Black girl / descended from slaves and raised by a single mother,” revealing to us her history, where she rose from, and what this country’s dark past and present mean to her. She also opens up to Obama about the speech impediment which she overcame and learned to view as a strength because of the push it gave her into writing. Additionally, she speaks about her commitment, for over six years, to make that journey to the inaugural stage, to tell the world what she has to say.
Gorman shares the words she told herself to keep pushing forward and creating poetry worthy of change: “In everything you write, write something that is brave enough to be hopeful. In everything that you write, write something that is larger than yourself. I don’t think I would have been able to write that Inauguration poem if I hadn’t lived every day of my life as if that was the place I was going to get.”
The astounding and inspirational dedication shown by Gorman rings the same note that her poems do. These words are her mode of art and resistance; she emphasizes her place within a greater movement of not only reform but of diverse and Black artists who are creating and inspiring every day. She tells Obama, “In all the forms of expression of human life, we’re seeing that artistry be informed by the Black experience. I can’t imagine anything more exciting than that.” Her perspective as a Black woman is a huge part of the work she creates, and we must keep listening to her and to other people who “reflect humanity in all of its diverse colors and breadth.”
Gorman shared with the world what her vision for the future is. A vision that we all must come together to make possible. Her talent and strength are only two parts of what make her such an impressive, empowering, and captivating woman. We won’t forget her any time soon, because she won’t let us. After all, she still has so much more to say: “I am the hurricane that comes every single year, and you can expect to see me again soon.”
For there is always light, / if only we’re brave enough to see it / If only we’re brave enough to be it
–Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb
Read her full interview with Michelle Obama here.
Discover more about Amanda Gorman and buy her books here.
Cover photo: The New York Times