“The Poet Diaries”: Who is Amanda Gorman Anyway?

The following is a guest post by the inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. This is the second in a series of monthly blog posts that Amanda will be writing during her laureateship this year. 

Amanda Gorman appears on MTV (credit: Linda Kallerus/MTV)

Last year my Harvard friends called me The Lorax. Some of them didn’t really know what ‘laureate’ meant (heck, I didn’t know what it meant until I applied to be L.A. Youth Poet Laureate in 2014), and Lorax sounded pretty close to that anyway.

Being Youth Poet Laureate of the U.S. is a lot like being a mythological Seussian creature that people don’t believe exists. It means I’m constantly explaining and redefining who I am and what the Youth Poet Laureate position is—which is both exciting and terrifying! I thought I’d take some time to do a little explaining here, and give you some more highlights of my tenure so far.

Who is Amanda Gorman anyway?

I’m a tiny-wristed poet from Los Angeles, California (Westchester area), going to school at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’m in love with Disney Pixar movies and am usually listening to some music composition by Michael Giacchino or Lin-Manuel Miranda. I’m getting a degree in sociology, and enjoy reading Spanish literature. I’m a sucker for Indian food and grew up watching black and white TV shows like The Honeymooners or The Munsters (when I got ‘mature’ enough, my mom exposed me to the advanced TV shows in color, like H.R. Pufnstuf). I love to write. Meaning that I write to live and live to write. And I’m the Inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate of the U.S.

What is the Inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate of the U.S. anyway?

The National Youth Poet Laureate Program is an initiative of Urban Word, in collaboration with local youth literary arts organizations across the country and The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The program is championed by leading national literary organizations, including the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America, PEN Center USA, and Cave Canem. In 2008, Urban Word launched the program, the nation’s first ever, in partnership with the NYC Voters Assistance Commission and the NYC Mayor’s Office. In 2013, Urban Word worked with local youth literary arts organizations to launch Youth Poet Laureate programs in 10 cities and, since then, has grown the program to serve more than 35 cities and states nationally. This past year, the program named me the country’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate from a group of five regional finalists.

What does the Youth Poet Laureate do?

I have the incredible honor of meeting with and speaking to crowds of inspiring youth, writing these posts for From the Catbird Seat, doing interviews, and other service projects on the side. To give you a monthly snapshot, over the past few weeks I’ve had the privilege to speak about girls’ education at the Glamour Day of the Girl Rally and read my 2036 State of the Union address on MTV. The New York Times also printed an interview with me about poetry and my tenure, which I’m sure my ecstatic mom bought from every Starbucks in a 10-mile radius of our home. Right now I’m on a train to attend the Glamour Women of the Year Awards.

So… do you go to school?

People always ask me this question with their left eyebrow raised and I can see their invisible spectacles winking at me. I hear, in translation: How do you fulfill your poet laureate duties and go to Harvard at the same time? Are you actually learning in your classes or missing school? Or, as some people flat out say: I don’t know how you do it.

I wish I could say I have great time management skills, but that’s a bald-faced lie. I will get swallowed up binge watching The West Wing. I’ll look up and I’ve spent two hours laughing at nonsense with my friends in the dining hall. Of course there’s my other kryptonite, which is curling up with a good book rather than doing my actual gov class reading. And I can’t say I am particularly fast at getting homework or tasks done; I’m a chronic procrastinator.

What I can say is that I look around myself and see a generation of young people—and young women in particular—accomplishing amazing things while taking their own personal education seriously. From Malala Yousafzai, to my high school friend who was in an internationally-traveling circus troupe while juggling (no pun intended) academics, I’ve been surrounded by the examples of young women who slay while going to school. So, if they can, why not you? Why not anybody? Maybe it’s because I’m the daughter of a teacher, but I’ve never given myself the option to slack off on school for my poetry duties. In my family, we go big or go home.

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