Amanda Gorman: First National Youth Poet Laureate

Amanda Gorman, 20, is the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. A rising junior at Harvard, her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and more.

 Image: Tony Luong for The New York Times

Image: Tony Luong for The New York Times

 

Make Muse: You’re doing it all- you're a writer, a poet, a delegate. How do you describe yourself in one or two sentences? (One of our favorite quotes describing you is, “Amanda’s bio goes out of date every two weeks”!)

Amanda: If Velma Dinkley from Scooby Doo was a poet, that’d be me. I’m a Harry Potter nerd and creative writer from Los Angeles currently studying sociology at Harvard.

 

Make Muse: You’re mostly known for your title “National Youth Poet Laureate”. What does this role entail?

Amanda: Good question--being a National Youth Poet Laureate basically means I’m a U.S. ambassador of sorts to poetry, literacy, and young people. I travel the country speaking with educators and young people, I write poetry for publications like The New York Times, and work on social justice projects with nonprofits.

 

Make Muse: Can you describe what it felt like when you received the title. What did it take to receive it?

Amanda: In all honesty, becoming US Youth Poet Laureate has been at least a four-year journey, if not a lifelong process. After applying with some poetry, a video, and my resume, in high school, I was selected by a panel organized by Urban Word NYC to be Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate--the first one. A little over a year later, I was selected by Urban Word to be Youth Poet Laureate of the West--the first one. And after sending in another application with poetry, press, community service, and essays, I was selected as the U.S. Youth Poet Laureate--the first one. I kind of explain it as being youth poetry mayor, then youth poetry senator, then youth poetry president, if that makes sense. It’s been such an incredible honor, not to mention loads of fun. I get to meet phenomenal young writers from all over the U.S. and use my platform to help shed light on them.

  Image: Anna Zhang

Image: Anna Zhang

Make Muse: Tell us a little bit about your background and beginnings of writing poetry. Did you grow up wanting to be a writer or start creating work at a young age?

Amanda: I’ve been writing since I can remember. That was mostly because I had a speech impediment, so communicating orally wasn’t always my strong suit. But ever since I could remember, I’d say latest 5, I loved writing stories. I’d write children's’ books and novels, at six-years-old I’d wake up at five am so I could get a head start at writing. I don’t know how I did that back then, now when I have an 11 am college class it takes everything to drag myself out of bed!

 

Make Muse: A lot of your work centers around identity and various issues- culture, gender, race, diversity, social justice, etc. What has been the response to incorporating somewhat of the personal and political into your work?

Amanda: Overall I have been positively overwhelmed by the encouragement and energy I receive after I perform or publish one of those pieces. My poem, In This Place: An American Lyric, became one of The Quarry’s Top 10 Most Viewed Poems of 2017, which is crazy because it came out as late as the end of September, and my poetic State of the Union address on MTV got over half a million views in just a few days. Whatever the numbers may be, I think it shows that audiences, especially today,  respond to the personal, which is inherently political.

 

Make Muse: As you’re notably committed to social justice, who are some examples of people who practice intersectional feminism in their lives?

Amanda: I call intersectional feminism ‘feminism’, because any gendered collective thought of equality that is not intersectional is thus not feminism. There are some celebrity examples of this, like Beyonce, Tarana Burke, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Emma Watson, and more, and there are the day-to-day women that don’t get the press--my mother, who taught me to be a strong and compassionate black woman, and my sister, both of whom keep me grounded. My dog is also a feminist. She refuses to be intimidated by the big park dogs that try to tell her not to mark her territory.

 

Make Muse: We love the story about you wanting to diversify your school’s English curriculum. In your own words, tell us about the benefits of having marginalized voices amplified?

Amanda: I mean, the benefits are endless. It’s not just a moral, but also a pedagogical issue. Our learning opportunities become all the more profound when we step into the experiences of different identities. People think when I say ‘diversity’ I exclusively mean black women. Which, yes, I think black women could be better represented in countless spaces, but I also mean the entire plethora of queer, immigrant, special needs, of color, etc. voices which would make our knowledge and appreciation of human diversity all the more sophisticated and thorough.


Make Muse: As a reader, what are your favorite female-focused books or female authors?

Amanda: J.K. Rowling. Maya Angelou. Toni Morrison. Jesmyn Ward. Gah there’s so many! I also appreciate non-women authors who challenge themselves to write about female protagonists, like Colson Whitehead in his novel The Underground Railroad.

 

Make Muse: Who have been some of the greatest and strongest women that you’ve met through your work as Youth Poet Laureate? What have been your favorite or most meaningful events to attend?

Amanda: Ah there’s so many! I’ve had the honor of meeting Michelle Obama at the White House, which was just, wow, and also Hillary Clinton at the Global Leadership Awards in D.C.--again, just wow! But the other inspiring women are the girl writers I get to meet when I’m speaking as US Youth Poet Laureate. All of them are changing the world in their own ways, and if that’s not meaningful, I don’t know what is.


Make Muse: What is your favorite poem that you’ve written?

Amanda: I’m kind of ruthless with my poems. I’ll write one, think it’s the bomb dot com, and then the next day feel it’s the worst thing anyone has put to paper. But one with an impact I like is In This Place: An American Lyric. School teachers are presenting it in their classrooms, I get messages from people who have read it and gotten tears in their eyes. I also personally like Old Jim Crow Got to Go, which I published with the New York Times in celebration of Black History Month, because I got to combine textual analysis, which I do as a student sociologist and poetry. And since this is about women, I had fun being able to write a poem on literature and feminism, ‘In Every Woman There Is A Writer’  for the New York Times Gender Letter.

Make Muse: You have other ambitions and projects- One Page One Pen and She The People- as well as a desire to run for President. What is the future for Amanda Gorman?

Amanda: Ha you’ll have to ask the future Amanda Gorman! I’m working on writing some more prose because I’d like to come out with another book. Other than that, I see a lot more poetry and politics in my future.

 

Make Muse: What advice to have for young girls who are struggling to speak their mind, maximize their creative potential, or take their writing to the next level?

Amanda: It sounds simple, but (1) keep going. Never giving up is the main key. (2) Find others who can support you, AND support others. Sometimes true success comes from helping others and expecting nothing in return. (3) Read. Read. Read.