Amanda Gorman Shares Aspiration to Be 'A Stepping-Stone for Change'

Amanda Gorman is far from done speaking her piece. The National Youth Poet Laureate covers the May issue of Vogue, where she opens up about her rise to fame after reciting her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at President Biden’s inauguration. 

Gorman made history as the youngest inaugural poet ever and began a press tour that included appearances with a bevy of well-known TV hosts such as James Corden, Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper. Her name became synonymous with political figures like Hillary Clinton, Michelle and Barack Obama, and more. According to Gorman, it has all been an adventure aided by a “village.”

“It took so much labor, not only on behalf of me but also of my family and of my village, to get here,” she admits. 

The 23-year old, who graduated cum laude from Harvard in 2020, reveals that when the Biden Inaugural Committee informed her that they chose her to be the ceremony’s poet in late December, she was both flattered and concerned. The idea of traveling during the coronavirus pandemic “terrified her” and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol amplified her worries. “Not that no one else could have done it, but if they had taken another young poet and just been like, ‘A five-minute poem, please, and by the way, the Capitol was just almost burned down. See you later…’ That would have been traumatizing,” she says.

Her mother, Joan Wicks, shares that although she encouraged her daughter to follow through with the inauguration, she still took the danger into account. “I did have Amanda practice how, in a second’s notice, I could become a body shield,” she says. In the end, a message from Oprah Winfrey became the final boost that spurred Gorman to go ahead with the performance. During a virtual celebration in March for the launch of her book, The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Nation, Gorman revealed that when she contacted Winfrey about her indecisiveness, Winfrey told her, “Mask up, show up, and go.”

Gorman says that after the inauguration, she took a moment to reflect in her journal, writing, “I’ve learned that it’s okay to be afraid. And what’s more, it’s okay to seek greatness. That does not make me a black hole seeking attention. It makes me a supernova.”

Fellow poet Danez Smith notes that it was as if the media “made [Gorman] poetry,” with Smith hoping “we don’t limit her to that poem. I hope we don’t think that she’s always got to talk to everybody.”

Gorman herself is cautious about how the media highlights her, saying, “I don’t want it to be something that becomes a cage, where to be a successful Black girl, you have to be Amanda Gorman and go to Harvard. I want someone to eventually disrupt the model I have established.”

The poet has since begun working on her picture book, Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem, and a new collection, The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, both due in September. She signed with leading modeling agency IMG Models, has written a manifesto for Nike in celebration of the legacy of Black activist athletes, and read her poem, “Chorus of the Captains,” for the Super Bowl LV pregame show. It hasn’t been for the money, Gorman says, revealing that she’s turned down $17 million in offers. “If you see something and it says a million dollars, you’re going to rationalize why that makes sense,” she explains. “I have to be conscious of taking commissions that speak to me.”

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