“The Poet Diaries”: Celebrating Black History Month

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

Happy February!

February happens to be one of my favorite months because, while I celebrate black history every day all year, it’s great to see the conversation and messaging about the importance of black contributions these 28 days.

Amanda Gorman appears on The Today Show. February 9, 2018. Photo courtesy of The Today Show.

Like many other months, this January and February have been exciting times as I continue my tenure as Youth Poet Laureate. This January my sister Gabrielle Gorman and I released a video with the California Endowment for the Rise Up As One movement. I wrote the poem, and my sister directed, to create a film about speaking up, solidarity, and social justice activism not only in our home state of California but also around the nation as well. It was particularly powerful for me that it came out around the annual Women’s March, when my sister and I were back on the pavement with thousands of others walking for change.

After coming back to school in Boston to frigid air and icy sidewalks (it’s a miracle I haven’t had a trip disaster yet), I had the pleasure of speaking at BeautyCon x Revlon’s Live Boldly event in NYC, which highlighted beauty in all its multitudes. Amazing women present included Ashley Graham, Adwoa Aboah, Imaan Hammam, Raquel Zimmermann, and Gal Gadot. I believe poetry in particular has a special role in diversifying our conceptions of beauty, and so it was such a fantastic night to combine my passion for fashion and style with my poetry.

I got to stop by the New York Times Headquarters while I was in the city and meet with the national editors (who were kind enough to share their Chinese food!). What a rush to see the seemingly never-ending gray building stretch up above me into the sky. You can read the piece about it in the California Newsletter here.

Irregular Labs held an event with Sage Adams at Galeria Melissa in Manhattan, which I had a blast speaking at as well. Other panelists included creatives and artists of color like Anajah Hamilton, Tyler Mitchell, and Social Media Manager Kimberly Drew. If you don’t know who they are, you should definitely check them out on Instagram!

These past few weeks I’ve also spoken with students at Fisher College in Boston, which was a great highlight. If you know me, you know that meeting with students is always one of my favorite parts of being YPL. I also spoke at Mass Poetry’s Evening of Inspired Leaders at the Huntington Theater, where local Boston leaders gathered together to celebrate poetry. Other speakers included Tommy Chang, Superintendent of Boston Public Schools; Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General; and Celeste Ng, bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. Did I mention it was emceed by the amazing Meghna Chakrabarti of WBUR’s Radio Boston? Definitely a spirit-warmer after the cold days and nights we’ve had in Cambridge.

Amanda speaks with Jenna Bush Hager on The Today Show. Photo courtesy of Christina Manna, NBC Universal.

A lot of the other work I’ve been in involved with these weeks concerns Black History Month. The Google Assistant app is currently highlighting black changemakers, and I’m honored to be included as one of them (just say “share some inspirational black voices” to the app!). I am on the cover of Study Break Magazine’s February issue and The Crimson’s Fifteen Minute Magazine, in both discussing my poetry and heritage as a black woman.

Also, excitingly, on The Today Show recently I discussed being the first-ever Youth Poet Laureate, but also what that means in the context of Black History Month and the real challenges of breaking through racial and gender barriers.

Black History Month has also been a time of reflection in the black community, and time and again I find a new perspective and strength through other black poets around me. Are you looking for inspiration? I’d check out poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets, and read through the pieces they’ve selected for February. If I may say so, they include some of my favorite poems by my favorite writers like Elizabeth Alexander, Maya Angelou, Jericho Brown, Wanda Coleman . . . okay, now I’m just listing all the writers, but the point is if you’re a literary lover, this is the perfect month to extend your reading of writers of color. The corpus of poetic work created by the African diaspora is beyond incredible, and definitely unforgettable.

I’m so excited to see what else Black History Month has in store! How are you celebrating this month?

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