NowThis Next 2021: Amanda Gorman, More Than A Poet
Gorman hopes to continue using her skills as a lyrical wordsmith to empower others to heal, to take action, and to use their voices to shape the world and become changemakers.
This year, NowThis NEXT has once again partnered with Vital Voices Global Partnership to honor the newest generation of changemakers who are tackling the world’s most prominent challenges with fresh new ideas, perspectives, and energy to drive change. To begin, we are featuring a young woman who captured the hearts and minds of millions of Americans at one of the most significant events of 2021: President Joe Biden’s Inauguration. Continue reading to learn all about the force that is Amanda Gorman, who Vital Voices and NowThis NEXT are honoring as our 2021 Global Trailblazer.
If you hadn’t heard of Amanda Gorman before President Biden’s Inauguration in January of 2021, you certainly knew of her after the historic ceremony. At just 22 years old, Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet in American history when she read her poem, “The Hill We Climb.” Her goal was to use her words to “re-sanctify the steps of the Capitol,” just weeks after the violence of the January 6th insurrection occured in the same place. When national unity seemed all but lost, Gorman’s poem provided a beacon of hope, and a means for the country to move forward — together.
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated.”
A Los Angeles native, an avid reader, and a daughter to an English teacher, Gorman became hooked on writing and the power of language at a young age. Reading Toni Morrison in eighth grade taught Gorman how to “write unapologetically with a Black feminist voice,” and she hasn’t looked back since.
Gorman leapt into a career in poetry, where she was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017 after also having served as the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. By then, she had already published her first poetry book, “The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough,” in 2015. As her career quickly evolved, and while she overcame a speech impediment along the way, Gorman’s powerful writing gained her private audiences with the Obama White House, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Al Gore, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, Oprah, and more. She performed her poetry on CBS This Morning, at the Library of Congress, and at Lincoln Center. Her work has been featured in the New York Times and in Nike’s 2020 Black History Month Campaign, and she was the first poet commissioned to write a poem to be read at the Super Bowl.
In addition to her work as a poet, Gorman is also an activist who focuses on issues related to equality, race, feminism, education, the environment, and the African diaspora. In 2019 partnered with NowThis, where she shared a poem written in support of women’s rights, women’s health, and body autonomy, which has only been further rolled back with anti-abortion legislation in Texas. Her activism has landed her a contract with Estée Lauder, where she will lead discussions on self-expression in the beauty industry and advance literacy initiatives for women as the brand’s first Global Changemaker.
Gorman is also a board member for Vital Voices, after being one of the organization’s HERLead Fellows in 2014. She had this to say about her experience in the fellowship: “They didn’t just give me funds and mentorship–they basically handed me a pen like a baton and said: “Run with it. Write your own story.” With HERlead helping me define my leadership as a literary activist, I’ve been able to make herstory as the first recipient of the highest national honor given to a young poet.”
While Gorman has certainly achieved an unimaginable level of success in her professional career at just 23 years old, she also (virtually) graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 2020, where she studied sociology. She finished out her collegiate years remotely on the West Coast due to COVID-19.
Most recently, Gorman released her debut children's book, Change Sings, and has a poetry collection, Call Us What We Carry, coming out in December. She also co-hosted the 2021 Met Gala in September alongside Naomi Osaka, Billie Eilish and Timothée Chalamet, dressed in her best emulation of the State of Liberty. And when NASA’s Lucy mission took off to space in mid-October for a twelve-year journey, it departed with an original poem that Gorman wrote for the mission.
“Blessed be the people who see
The dream in the bones of Lucy:
That the worlds braved by humankind
Be worlds that leave us humans kind.
Let each dawn find us courageous,
Heeding the light forevermore.
May ancient hope implore us,
At our uncompromising core,
To keep rising for an earth more
Than worth fighting for.”
Gorman hopes to continue using her skills as a lyrical wordsmith to empower others to heal, to take action, and to use their voices to shape the world and become changemakers. When Gorman was interviewed for TIME magazine by Michelle Obama, she implored herself — and others — to “write something that is brave enough to be hopeful.”
To address her own call-to-action, in the last lines of her Inauguration Day poem, Gorman declared:
“For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Watch as Amanda is honored in NowThis NEXT presents: YES WE DID! The Vital Voices of 2021, with a special introduction from her friend, Malala Yousafzai, airing Monday, October 25 at 8pm EST. You can watch live on OWN, and also on NowThis social channels, we’ll be live on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter - subscribe and follow to be notified. To ensure you don’t miss it, please RSVP here to get reminders for the big night!
NowThis is honored to partner with Vital Voices to make this incredible celebration happen. To learn more about Vital Voices, the impact they are having on women leaders now, and how YOU can get involved, visit vitalvoices.org or @vitalvoices on social.