During the inauguration of Joe Biden, she struck the spirits by reading one of her own poems. Committed to literacy, this overallchangemaker by Estée Lauder has become a millennial icon and a powerful voice in America.
His words are crystal clear, carefully weighed and delivered without a hint of stammering. On the telephone, from the West Coast of America, the phrases ofAmanda Gorman sparkle next to our slightly rusty English. She sweeps away our genes with a burst of laughter: “It reminds me of an anecdote: when I was little, I couldn’t pronounce the “r”. I was doing Spanish, but my teachers told me that I should have taken French because your “r”s are softer. It was I who missed the boat by not learning your language. So don’t apologize!”
The inauguration of Joe Biden
Behind these refractory “r’s”, we find one of the foundations of the story of Amanda Gorman: that of a black child suffering from a hearing and speech problem, who, at 22, became the youngest poet to declaim a text during the inauguration of the oldest of American presidents – Joe Biden, a 78-year-old white man (himself once handicapped by a stutter). Two personalities located at the ends of the spectrum of American society, an obvious symbol of a desire to place this new mandate under the sign of union, after four years of a Trump presidency marked by divisions and the turmoil of movements Me Too and Black Lives Matter.
No one has forgotten the appearance of Amanda Gorman on the steps of the Capitol, this January 20, 2021. No one has forgotten her poem, The Hill We Climb “But suddenly the dawn belongs to us / Without knowing what it is, we act / Without knowing what it is, we have held on, / Witnesses of a nation not broken, but simply unfinished.” Powerful words, bearers of hope, that the young woman chanted with astonishing aplomb.
Today, she remembers the spectacle: “There was something magical about standing on this stage, in front of presidents, and looking beyond the flags of the National Esplanade, to the Lincoln Memorial. I really felt like I was part of a historic moment.” No one has forgotten either his crazy look, his sunny yellow jacket and his blood red headband. The famous headband quickly found itself out of stock, then copied from all sides. Amanda mentions it on Instagram: “It was my mother who suggested that I wear it on my braids, horizontally. I highly recommend the crown headband for anyone who wants to feel taller, straighter, prouder.”
Amanda Gorman is an American of the third millennium. She knows that image and fashion are powerful vectors of ideas, as well as beauty, this territory whose borders are constantly opening up to more diversity. There too, his choices are political: “I feed on what constitutes my heritage: I have done a lot of research on West African looks, thus going back to my roots and popular trends in the community. black. It’s not just people, but a whole people that inspires me.”
When I was 7 or 8, it became very clear to me that writing allowed me to have a voice
The commitment to literacy
From now on, Amanda Gorman is in her turn part of this great current which carries the new generations. Since September 2021, she has been ambassador and curator for the Estée Lauder group: with her, the American brand launched “Writing Change », an ambitious program intended to support organizations that work for the literacy of young people. An essential factor of emancipation: “When you know how to read and write, that means you can vote: read an electoral program and fill out a ballot,” she explains. For women and girls, it also means more access to information about reproductive rights. When you give women a pen, you give them a power that goes far beyond keeping a journal – even if that is just as powerful. It is a direct access to a more active participation in society.”
This power, Amanda Gorman became aware of it very early: “At 7 or 8 years old, it became very clear to me that writing allowed me to have a voice. This was all the more important as I struggled with my speech problems: it was very difficult for me to speak up in class, to make myself heard among my classmates. When one of my teachers introduced me to creative writing, I realized it was a way to express my thoughts and feelings. That was key: beyond the writing, it was about individuality, power and agency.”
Lyrical and accessible
When she declaimed her poem during the inauguration of Joe Biden, Amanda Gorman was already a star in the United States. A child prodigy who embodied a new force for change. Born in Los Angeles, she was raised by a single mother, an English teacher, who gave her children (Amanda has an older brother and twin sister, Gabrielle, now a director) books and notebooks rather than to install them in front of the TV. His icons: Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou.
Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence
Very young, she reflected and wrote on feminism, racism, the defense of minorities. If she chooses to express herself through poems, it is because their rhythm, like that of pop songs or rap, helps her negotiate the sharp angles of the words she struggles to pronounce. And because she is aware that they carry real revolutions.
An impact that she recalls by quoting the black, feminist and lesbian poet Audre Lorde: “Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of light within which we affirm our hopes and dreams for survival, for change, first through language, then through idea, and finally through more tangible action. At the age when the highlights of teenage life are embodied in a first kiss, a sports victory or a prom, Amanda Gorman goes on to national success. She was only 17 when her first collection of poems, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough (“The person for whom food is not enough”, not translated, editor’s note) is published.
In video, Extract from the poem Chorus of Captains by Amanda Gorman
In 2016, she launched her own charity, aimed at promoting writing among students, and the following year she became the first winner of the National Youth Poet, a prize that distinguishes a future hope of American poetry. All this before you even graduate cum laude from Harvard in 2020 where, thanks to a scholarship, she followed a course in sociology. Exemplary career, validation of Generation Z as one of the most venerable institutions, innate sense of style and communication: this is undoubtedly all that Jill Biden has in mind when she contacts her for the investiture of her husband.
Amanda Gorman writes The Hill We Climb for the event. A few days earlier, Trump supporters violently stormed the Capitol. She edits a few lines at the last minute: “We saw a force determined to destroy our nation rather than divide it / Determined to demolish our country to hinder democracy / And this charge almost succeeded / But if democracy can sometimes be hindered / It can never be definitively conquered.” Amanda Gorman’s poems, both lyrical and accessible, are unique in that they are dynamic and moving forms, in tune with current events.
A growing success
This year, it is also in verse that she evoked the massacre of the primary school of Uvalde or the tangible threats which hover over the right to abortion. Far from being reserved for the dusty shelves of a bookstore, his texts are in good place at the Library of Congress and on online sales sites (published at the end of March 2021, the printed version of The Hill We Climbprefaced by Oprah Winfrey, sold 215,000 copies in the United States in one week).
Excerpts are now taken up as mantras on social networks, a new Eldorado of sonnets, quatrains and other inspiring haikus: “I consider poetry to be a living tradition, even if it often remains the domain of white males, old or dead, underlines the young lady. So when I talk about it, I try, as much as possible, to mention female, queer or marginalized authors who have built what it is today. Because it does not belong to me but to the public, as a heritage of the language that we have in common.
New icon of an ideal of reconciliation, the opposite of the “flayed world” that she denounces in her poem, Amanda Gorman has not, however, been spared by controversy. In Spain and the Netherlands, publishers of The Hill We Climb for not having chosen black translators, and for having thus minimized the role and the gaze of minorities. In France, the Fayard editions entrusted the text to the Belgian-Congolese musician Lous and the Yakuza, to general approval. But the case has sparked many debates: proof that poetry evolves in a framework that can, in the blink of an eye, go from the most flexible to the most rigid. Able to fit into the mold of social networks and modern communication laws, it becomes flammable when it comes up against racism, politics and, sometimes, political correctness.
An essential lightness
Amanda Gorman did not comment. It intends to overcome divisions and address everyone. By relying, once again, on the power of words. Thus, while we advocate body positivism to the point that some see it as a new injunction to be at all costs proud of her body, Amanda Gorman goes further. And proposes the term “neutrality”: “It is difficult to be in ecstasy in front of your body when you receive so many contradictory messages in the media or the ambient culture. I think it’s important, on days when people don’t think they’re beautiful, not to judge them because they feel those doubts. When I don’t feel totally in tune with how my body presents itself to the world, I at least try to be neutral. If I can’t have a positive approach, I will at least try not to be negative. […]. It is from there that I will be able to take a more positive look.
This benevolence, Amanda Gorman tries to apply it to all areas of her life. At 24, this possible future candidate for the presidency remains a personality on the minister’s agenda, which ensures the promotion of his latest collection of poems, Call Us What We Carrycampaigns for the rights of women and minorities, writes poems for the UN and exchanges, on occasion, with Meghan Markle Where Malala Yousafzai. Even if it means sacrificing any form of lightness? “No, because I need it,” she says. It’s even something that I try to incorporate into my poetry. I go out with friends and I like to cook, even if it’s not where I’m the best. I also watch series: I love the “Great British Baking Show” (a televised pastry competition, editor’s note), it is very relaxing. And I just finished Game Of Thrones: I know, it’s not exactly light, but I hadn’t had time to look at it earlier. Above all, whatever she does, Amanda Gorman always keeps in mind a poem she wrote, a few verses that accompany her like a talisman: “I am the daughter of black writers / Who were descended from fighters of the freedom / Who broke their chains and changed the world.” It’s his turn to take over.