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Meet Amanda Gorman, the L.A. Native Who Is the First National Youth Poet Laureate

9:00 AM PST on January 20, 2021

UPDATE: Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old Los Angeles native and America’s first national youth poet laureate, stole the show at President Joe Biden’s and Vice-President Kamala Harris’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021 with a powerful poem about equality and unity that subsequently went viral. L.A. Taco profiled here in 2018 when she was an undergraduate student at Harvard. That interview and an original poem by Amanda is below. 

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]manda Gorman found a natural desire to write down her thoughts at the age of five. She called herself a songwriter, although she did not typically sing. The songs resembled spoken-word poems without music, which kickstarted Amanda’s natural transition into poetry.

By April 2017, at the age of 19, Amanda became the very first National Youth Poet Laureate in United States history, a proud moment for the Los Angeles native and current Harvard undergraduate.

Gorman’s trailblazing career as a poet and activist have paved the way for writing, performing, and community organizing opportunities with the United Nations, Library of Congress, and the city of LA. Amanda has been featured in Glamour Magazine, Forbes, Total Request Live, NBC News, USA Today, and Teen Vogue just to name a few!

Gorman was raised with her two siblings in West Los Angeles by her single mother, Joan Woods. She attended New Roads School, a K-12 private school in Santa Monica, while her mother worked as a sixth grade English teacher in Watts. Witnessing her mother deal with life and death scenarios for her students made Amanda realize the paradigm of being an educator in underserved communities.

“Seeing her has made me a better student, poet, and person,” Amanda says.

Shelly Fernan, Amanda’s third grade teacher, helped further her creative writing as well. Shelly was not very concerned with grammar, but rather the importance of Amanda finding her voice.

Establishing an identity has been a struggle Amanda faced her entire life, especially growing up with twin sister, Gabrielle Gorman. Amanda explains the perks of a twin sister are always having a best friend, never being alone, and someone who understands obscure childhood references. On the other hand, she asks herself, “How do I create my identity with this person I’m always compared to?”

Aside from her twin, Amanda has found additional hardships as a black woman. She says, “Being a black woman and being told, either you’re black or you’re a woman. I’m both at the same time. How logical is that?”

In 2014, at the age of 16, she founded One Pen One Page, a non-profit organization that encourages youth advocacy, leadership development, and poetry workshops. In addition, Amanda regularly visits elementary and middle schools to share the power of poetry with students. Her poems connect with young people of color, specifically black teenage girls, in a way no other audience can relate to.

If she is performing for a conservative audience — for example, the United Nations — then Amanda will adjust a line within her poems to establish an entry point. This is not to compromise the message, but to give an approach that keeps people listening in a receptive manner. “Audiences need that journey to marinate. If I turn people off, then I’m not doing my job,” Amanda says.

[Below, a poem by Amanda Gorman, shared with LA Taco]

Reading and writing have played a vital role in strengthening her creative muscle. One of Amanda’s literary methods consisted of waking up early in the morning, pulling a book from a giant stack, and imitating the writer’s voice through her own work. Some of her favorite authors are J.K. Rowling, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Ron Chernow. “I always really liked reading. There’s a vacancy inside yourself with room for other stories to be told,” she says.

Through writing workshops and mentorships such as Write Girl and Beyond Baroque, Amanda has honed her talents. Last April, after a rigorous process examining her literary talent, community engagement, and youth leadership, Amanda was appointed the first National Youth Poet Laureate. The awarded title has opened many doors for her, including meetings with Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Despite her major accomplishments, Amanda still manages to balance the schedule of a normal college student at Harvard University. She is currently a sociology major, and plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps with a double major in English. Between interviews, traveling, speaking, writing, teaching, homework, eating, and sleeping, “I guess I have a lot going on,” Amanda says with a smile.

For more information, visit Amanda Gorman’s website: www.amandascgorman.com.

SEE ALSO: Young Poet Spotlight: Meet Eddy M. Gana Jr.

This article was originally published in 2018.

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