Amanda Gorman captivated the world when she read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ Jan. 20 Inauguration ceremony. Sitting just feet away from the 22-year-old that day was former First Lady Michelle Obama, who had met Gorman twice before—in 2016 at a White House event for the National Student Poets program and again at a 2018 event for Black Girls Rock, an organization that seeks to empower women and girls. Gorman, who was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, emerged in an instant as the latest inspiring young artist of the renaissance. Her three upcoming books shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list and the NFL soon announced plans for her to recite an original poem at Super Bowl LV. In a remote interview, Gorman and Obama covered topics ranging from the role of art in activism to the pressures Black women face in the spotlight.
Michelle Obama: We’re here to talk about the current renaissance in Black art—this surge of creativity we’ve seen over the past six years or so. What do you make of calling this period a “renaissance”? And where do you see yourself within it?
Amanda Gorman: We’re living in an important moment in Black art because we’re living in an important moment in Black life. Whether that’s looking at what it means politically to have an African-American President before Trump, or looking at what it means to have the Black Lives movement become the largest social movement in the United States. What’s been exciting for me is I get to absorb and to live in that creation I see from other African-American artists that I look up to. But then I also get to create art and participate in that historical record. We’re seeing it in fashion, we’re seeing it in the visual arts. We’re seeing it in dance, we’re seeing it in music. In all the forms of expression of human life, we’re seeing that artistry be informed by the Black experience. I can’t imagine anything more exciting than that.