Hand-selected by President Biden, Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” was a literary performance that exuded healing for our nation and hope for our future. And this was something the young artist was able to understand firsthand, evidenced by Gorman’s own journey to becoming the “Wordsmith,” the “Change-maker” and the lotus flower with a specific bloom for our coming-of-age youth.
Roots Latched in Mud
Before the lotus blossoms with precious yellow, white or pink petals, it is planted in river water, growing from “the deepest and thickest mud.”
Before the life-giving lyricist touched us all at President Biden’s inauguration ceremony, Gorman was planted in Los Angeles, California, with her single mother and two siblings, one being Gorman’s twin.
During an interview this month with former first lady Michelle Obama, the artistic activist was asked to speak about her upbringing: “We’ve been raised like you, by a strong Black woman who taught us to value our ideas and our voices.” According to the creator herself, Gorman’s childhood environment was “limited” to eliminate entertainment distractions like television. She also described herself as a “weird child” who spent most of her time reading and writing.
“When I struggled to share my own voice,” Gorman told CBS This Morning, “writing … opened up new possibilities.” Recall how the lotus is latched in the mud of murky river water in order to grow. Well, in a way, so did the passionate poet. Gorman grew up with a speech impediment and an auditory processing disorder that affects the way the brain processes sound.
During an interview with Anderson Cooper, Gorman explained her impediment as, “dropping a whole swath of letters in the alphabet … for most of my life, until two or maybe three years ago, I couldn’t say the letter ‘r.’ Even to this day sometimes I struggle with it.” However, the innovative poet’s impediment didn’t stop her from delivering her inauguration performance, which used the challenging word “rise” multiple times.
Finding Sanctuary in the Muck
Even though the flower starts out having to re-bloom itself, in the end, the lavish lotus undergoes what many Eastern cultures consider a “spiritual enlightenment:” “… its daily process of life, death, and reemergence.”
And the youthful influencer shares this same experience of glory with the help of Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and producer of the enchanting musical “Hamilton,” as well as Leslie Odom Jr., who sings “Aaron Burr, Sir,” one of the musical’s songs. Young Gorman was inspired to train herself by singing the song from the play, which contains a richness of “r” words. Her dedication motivated the muse master to turn her disability into direction, and to thank Miranda and Odom Jr., Gorman alluded to the musical in her inauguration performance.
“My last name is Gorman, and I could not say that really until three years ago,” the gifted poet told Michelle Obama after being asked to talk about how she overcame her speaking difficulties. “For a long time, I looked at it as a weakness. Now I really look at it as a strength because going through that process, it made me a writer, for one …”
Not only did this become the impetus for Gorman to find her voice, but also the cure: “… the more that I recited out loud … the more I was able to teach myself how to pronounce these letters, which for so long had been my greatest impediment,” the female poet told Anderson Cooper.
And just as Cooper, Biden and Maya Angelou — who all experienced different forms of speech difficulties — took steps to persevere, they also understood why it is worth sharing how the power of words can remind us of who we are and who we could be.
The Flower of Rebirth
After triumphing over her speech disorders, Gorman would surge like the lotus. In 2014 the star was chosen as the first youth poet laureate in her hometown of Los Angeles. At the same time, she worked on her novel, “The One For Whom Food Is Not Enough,” which would be released the following year.
Alongside that, in 2016 Gorman founded One Pen One Page, a nonprofit organization that promotes youth writing and leadership.
She was also the first poet in 2017 to open for the Library of Congress’ Literary Season with her piece “In This Place: An American Lyric.” During this same time, she also performed some of her work on MTV.
Later in 2018, she was selected as Glamour’s “College Woman of the Year” while studying sociology at Harvard University.
As she continued to rise in popularity, Gorman was chosen by The Root in 2019 as a “Young Futurist,” which is an annual list of the 25 best and brightest young African Americans who excel in the fields of social justice and activism, arts and culture, enterprise and corporate innovation, science and technology as well as green innovation.
In May of 2020, Gorman got to virtually meet Oprah Winfrey and issue a commencement during a web series called “Some Good News” hosted by John Krasinski.
And in 2021, she became the first Black woman to read at the presidential inauguration ceremony in all of United States history. Such a grand list of achievements from someone that Anderson Cooper called “a bright talent burst.”
Concluding her interview with former first lady Michelle Obama, Gorman leaves aspiring female writers everywhere with this advice: “I’m new to this, so I’m still learning. I would say anyone who finds themselves suddenly visible and suddenly famous, think about the big picture. Especially for girls of color … You really have to crown yourself with the belief that what I’m about and what I’m here for is way beyond this moment. I’m learning that I am not lightning that strikes once. I am the hurricane that comes every single year, and you can expect to see me again soon.”