Amanda Gorman: ‘I wanted my words to re-sanctify the steps of the Capitol’

My earliest reading memory
My mom bought me a Hooked on Phonics reading kit when I was in early elementary school. I quite literally got hooked on reading and raced through as much material as I could.

The book that influenced me growing up
In third grade my teacher read us Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. It was the first time I’d heard a metaphor in such a way, and my mind was blown. It was a watershed moment for the way I viewed the power of language.

The author who made me want to write
In eighth grade, I read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. It’s not a poem, but it informed my thinking on how poetic language can infuse itself into a novel. It was also the first time I had seen a dark-skinned girl on the cover of a book and that absolutely enthralled me. Reading Morrison taught me how to write unapologetically with a Black feminist voice that was my own.

A moment that changed me
It was such an honour to be chosen to perform at the inauguration of President Biden. Following in the footsteps of such legendary poets as Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco was an amazing opportunity, but one that became even more critical after the Capitol insurrection. After that day, the vision of the poem I was crafting required a new level of depth. I wanted my words to re-sanctify the steps of the Capitol.

The poets who inspire me
Poets and storytellers throughout history have often been the visionaries of change. Language makers are the ones who create a new dialect in which people can communicate shared dreams that challenge the status quo. Poets such as Maya Angelou, Tracy K Smith, and Eve Ewing have been a constant source of inspiration to me.

My favourite book as a child
I loved Corduroy when I was little. It’s such a sweet, classic tale of friendship, I couldn’t help but want to be a better person.

On my debut picture book and what I hope it captures
I started writing my own children’s book Change Sings four years ago, while I was still a student. My hope was to craft a poem that would take young readers on a journey of self-discovery and ultimately empower them to see how they could become change-makers. Illustrator Loren Long took my abstract vision and gave it texture and light. I’m so proud of the mosaic of language and images that we made together.

The book that changed my mind
Citizen by Claudia Rankine reshaped what I had assumed a lyric to mean. It expertly destabilised my preconceived notions of what a poem can look like, as well as how a sociological instinct can be so beautifully integrated into a work of art.

The book I reread
I reread the Iliad this past year, which really hit differently this time. It’s an epic tale about a plague that blights an army for their leader’s chauvinism and short-sightedness. It felt close to home.

What I’m reading now
I’m always reading and rereading books. Newer books I’ve been reading are Four Hundred Souls, edited by Ibram X Kendi and Keisha N Blain, What Happened To You by Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey, and Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz.

My comfort read
Shakespeare. There’s nothing like a cup of hot cocoa and a copy of Othello or Hamlet while sitting by the fireplace.

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