Stopping by with Amanda Gorman
During this extraordinary moment—of both pause and activism—we asked writers, musicians, curators, and innovators to reflect on the power and memory of language, shared spaces, and this moment in time.
Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. She is a committed advocate for the environment, racial equality and gender justice. Amanda's activism and poetry have been featured on the Today Show, PBS Kids, CBS This Morning, and in the New York Times, Vogue, Essence, and O magazine. After graduating cum laude from Harvard University, she now lives in her hometown of Los Angeles. In 2017, Amanda Gorman was appointed the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate by Urban Word–a national program that supports Youth Poets Laureate in more than 60 cities, regions and states. The special edition of her inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, was published in March 2021. Her debut picture book, Change Sings, and breakout poetry collection, The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, will be published in September 2021.
What is the last thing that moved you?
I reread The Iliad this year, which really hit differently and much harder: An epic tale about a plague that blights an army for their leader's chauvinism and short-sightedness. It felt very close to home.
Is there a book that changed your life or was influential to you in becoming a poet?
I loved reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. It's not a poem, but it still informed my thinking of how poetic language can infuse itself into a gorgeously crafted novel.
If you could recommend one book or piece of art or music to everyone, what would it be?
That's hard! I will say I'm a huge Hamilton fan so I'll always recommend that.
What is your first memory of poetry either as a child or as an adult?
This isn't a poem, but I remember in third grade my teacher Shelly Fredman reading us Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. It was the first time I'd heard metaphor in such a way, and my mind was blown. She also had quotations of Maya Angelou on the wall, and I remember that image always staying with me.
The pandemic continues to keep many public spaces (libraries, concert halls, museums, etc.) closed. What space—and community—do you miss the most?
I miss libraries and bookstores so much my heart hurts. Particularly because COVID struck at the same time I graduated from college, meaning on an academic level I no longer had access to the troves of literature I was used to. Now more than ever is not the time for knowledge to die, so I love supporting these places of information as much as possible.
When it’s safe to travel again, where are you most looking forward to going and what are you most looking forward to doing there?
I'm not even sure if that place is far! Going somewhere tropical in the abstract sounds so nice and rejuvenating, but honestly I'd be so grateful to be able to go to a coffee shop up the street and be able to write poetry there again. You'll definitely find me perusing the shelves of The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.
Who is a living artist you most admire? And who do you most admire who is no longer living?
I love Lin-Manuel Miranda (again, you're talking to a die-hard Hamilton fan). And I also deeply admire Maya Angelou—not just the words she wrote, but how she wrote them, the way she moved through the world. Even after her death it takes my breath away.
If you were to choose one poem or text to inscribe in a public place right now, what would that be? And where would you place it?
I'd probably choose the manifesto of the Combahee River Collective and place it on buses and in subways, so that people could engage with the text and this early thinking on what interlocking systems of oppression mean, as well as how we liberate ourselves from them.
What do you see as the role of art in public life at this moment in time?
Art reminds us both of our common humanity as well as our best selves. In a time that can feel so dark, it's the creativity of the human spirit which serves as a beacon for our shared values. Its power can never be underestimated.
Are you working on anything right now that you can tell us about?
I'm working on my poetry collection, The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, which is set to come out at the end of this year. It's nerve wracking trying to keep the same standard as the inaugural poem, but I hope people, both venerable poetry lovers and new-comers, are able to enjoy it.