Amanda Gorman was jettisoned into the national spotlight on Inauguration Day when she read her poem “The Hill We Climb” as a new presidency dawned. The National Youth Poet Laureate has been lauded since the moment she stepped on the stage in her canary yellow coat. She now has three upcoming books that are already at the top of the Amazon bestseller list and is scheduled to recite one of her original works at Super Bowl LV on Sunday.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to Gorman, 22, in a remote interview posted on TIME Magazine’s website on Thursday (Feb. 4) speaking about a new emergence of Black art and culture in American society.
One of the questions Obama asked Gorman was about the new creative narrative that has been manifested as of late. “What do you make of calling this period a “renaissance”? And where do you see yourself within it,” asked Obama.
“We’re living in an important moment in Black art because we’re living in an important moment in Black life. Whether that’s looking at what it means politically to have an African-American President before Trump, or looking at what it means to have the Black Lives movement become the largest social movement in the United States,” replied Gorman. “What’s been exciting for me is I get to absorb and to live in that creation I see from other African-American artists that I look up to.”
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Obama sat near Gorman at the Inauguration and when the young poet took the stage, Mrs. Obama said she was made proud by her presence and aplomb. “...Seeing you address the whole country like that, I couldn’t help thinking to myself: Well, this girl has grown all the way up. It made me so happy. How did you prepare yourself for a moment like that,” she asked.
Gorman admitted that preparation for her performance was somewhat last-minute as she began to become emotionally prepared to deliver it just days before the inauguration.
“When I first wrote the poem, I was thinking that in the week leading up to the Inauguration I would be rehearsing every day,” Gorman explained. “But everything was moving so quickly, I actually didn’t get to really sit down with the text until the night before. Most of my preparation was stepping into the emotionality of the poem, getting my body and my psyche ready for that moment. There was a lot of the night-before performing in the mirror.”
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Obama also remarked about the Inaugural poem mentioning that Gorman is a descendant of enslaved Black people. She asked about the role poetry plays in expressing Black history.
“I wanted to give the American people some access to myself,” Gorman said. “A lot of the inspiration for that came from your speech at the  DNC in which you said, ‘I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.’
“Poetry is the lens we use to interrogate the history we stand on and the future we stand for,” she continued. “It’s no coincidence that at the base of the Statue of Liberty, there is a poem. Our instinct is to turn to poetry when we’re looking to communicate a spirit that is larger than ourselves. Whenever I’m writing, I’m looking at the history of words.”
Photo Credit: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images; Erika Goldring/Getty Images