Amanda Gorman talks to Michelle Obama about seeing her speech impediment as a 'strength'

By Heather Cichowski

Amanda Gorman's awe-inspiring performance of her poem, "The Hill We Climb" was one of the most memorable and moving moments of the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20. Fresh off the success of her speech, the 22-year-old National Youth Poet Laureate spoke with Michelle Obama about the lead up to the day, her work and the impact of Black artists during this moment.

During the insightful interview for TIME, the women also talked about imposter syndrome and the frame of mind they're in ahead of speaking to large crowds. Amanda shared how she was feeling just before taking the stage to perform her poem "The Hill We Climb."

"There was the 'Wow: Joe Biden's speech was amazing. Lady Gaga just killed it,'" she said. "But at the same time, 66 per cent of my brain was dedicated to questions: 'How am I going to get up to the podium without tripping? My hands are cold. Am I going to be able to flip these pages because my fingers are going numb?'"

The National Youth Poet Laureate speaking during the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. Photo: © Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The American poet also talked about having a speech impediment, which is something she has in common with the U.S. president and legendary poet Maya Angelou.

"President Biden has talked about having a stutter. Maya Angelou was mute for several years," Amanda pointed out. Amanda said in her own life, she struggled to say certain sounds, like "r."

"I would be saying things like poetwee or dolla. My last name is Gorman, and I could not say that really until three years ago," the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate revealed.

MORE: Watch National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman's amazing performance at the Biden-Harris inauguration

"For a long time, I looked at it as a weakness. Now I really look at it as a strength."

She says the process of finding ways she could communicate through her mouth made her a writer, and she learned about pronunciation, emphasis and sound when she began speaking certain words on stage.

Amanda Gorman poses for a photo with Barack Obama and Michelle Obama prior to the 59th Presidential Inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021. Photo: © Greg Nash - Pool/Getty Images

"The One For Whom Food Is Not Enough" author told Michelle about the mantra she repeats ahead of going on stage, which is inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s lyrics to the Moana song, “Song of the Ancestors." The tune contains the lyrics "I am the daughter of the village chief/We are descended from voyagers/Who found their way across the world."

Amanda's mantra, which she repeats to remind herself of her ancestors surrounding her while she performs, is: "I'm the daughter of Black writers who are descended from Freedom Fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me."

Amanda also included some references to Lin-Manuel's Hamilton in her inauguration poem, which didn't go unnoticed by him.

"You were perfect," the playwright responded to Amanda on Twitter at the time. "Perfectly written, perfectly delivered. Every bit of it. Brava!"


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