On Wednesday, Jan. 22, the University invited poet and activist Amanda Gorman to share her talk, “Poetry, Power, and Protest: Using Language to Live by MLK’s Values,” an event co-sponsored by the Stadler Center for Poetry & Literary Arts, the Office of Campus Sustainability and the Black Student Union.
Gorman was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her mother is an English teacher, so she “draws a lot of literary interest from her.” She has a younger sister who is 16 and a twin sister who is 45 seconds older. Her primary education can be attributed to New Roads School in Santa Monica, Calif., which she credits for much of her passion for social and environmental issues.
She admitted to having distinct childhood memories of writing early in the morning and her mom always yelling at her for reading while walking. As a child, Gorman was a ravenous reader. Her favorite books include the Percy Jackson and Harry Potter series, along with all-time-favorite Jane Eyre. “I loved really anything I could get my hands on and I would reread books until they were falling apart in my hands,” Gorman said.
While she was always captivated by writing and storytelling and has been writing poetry ever since she can remember, Gorman never considered herself a “poet” until her junior year of high school when she was named the Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate. She now holds the first-ever title of National Youth Poet Laureate.
How did you come to receive this title?
AG: There’s this organization called Urban Word, which is really the main foundation behind spearheading the Youth Poet Laureate Awards around the country. One of my high school teachers suggested I apply. I remember finding out I was a finalist and being very excited about that. And they announced at the event that I was the winner.
What helped you become such a talented poet?
AG: I would say I’m mostly an autodidact. I had taken one creative writing class in my high school; as for other training, there was an organization called Write Girl where I took creative writing workshops. I also participated in a Stanford pre-collegiate writing program. But even in totality, while I did receive a broad sweep of creative writing help, I never took a formal poetry workshop.
Could you tell me a bit about your life as a Harvard student?
AG: Going into college, I knew I didn’t want to study English because I wanted to challenge myself to learn something new, as life would always pull me towards writing on its own. At Harvard, I was drawn to Sociology because, as an activist, the questions that sociology asks about movement and institutions and how change operates are topics that are very central to my work. Furthermore, it deeply informs my work as a poet.
Where did this drive for activism come from?
AG: Like I mentioned, I went to a school called New Roads, from kindergarten to 12th grade, and they really have a central philosophy of social and environmental justice that they raise you with throughout the curriculum. And so, from a young age, I was motivated by my pedagogical environment to think about my own knowledge and learning as an application for making the world a better place.
Going forward, Amanda has received a two-book deal with Viking Books at Penguin Random House to publish what she describes as “anthems.” She plans on continuing to visit elementary schools, high schools and universities around the country to speak and hold workshops. As a college student, Amanda Gorman serves as a source of inspiration — she successfully shares her message and everything she stands for through the work she continues to put into the world.