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You Know Who Rules?

Amanda Gorman, First Ever National Youth Poet Laureate, Reflects on 2017

The 19-year-old author and activist tells Broadly about her extraordinary year and her ambitions to become the President of the United States.

Linda Yang

Linda Yang

Photos courtesy of Amanda Gorman

You Know Who Rules? is Broadly's December interview series highlighting women and non-binary people who accomplished incredible things during the dumpster fire of a year that was 2017.

This past April, Amanda Gorman of Los Angeles was named the inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States for "a history of artistic success, social justice, and youth leadership."

Before that, in 2015, Gorman published her first book, a poetry collection titled "The One for Whom Food is Not Enough." In addition to becoming a published author before graduating high school, Gorman is also the executive director of One Pen One Page, a non-profit organization promoting literacy and leadership thorough creative writing workshops. She's previously served as a United Nations Youth Delegate and introduced Hillary Clinton at this year's Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards. Amanda is 19 years old.

She spoke with Broadly about what it means to be the first ever Youth Poet Laureate of the US and her hopes for the upcoming year.

BROADLY: Looking back at 2017, what work are you most proud of?
AMANDA GORMAN: It would have to be becoming the first Youth Poet Laureate of the United States in April. Since becoming Youth Poet Laureate, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling and speaking to young people, having meetings with educators and administrators. It’s also included a lot of writing for myself but also for anthologies and other publications and a lot of press and interviews as well. I enjoy doing interviews not necessarily for myself but because it’s an opportunity for me me to speak about issues that I’m passionate about.

What type of issues are you highlighting with your platform?
Everything. But If I had to narrow it down: education, equality and the environment.

Anna Zhang for Pulse Spikes

Has the election of President Donald Trump heightened your passion about those issues
As a black woman, these are issues I’ve always been passionate about. But what I have noticed nationally and globally is that with the rise of white nationalism and elections going the way that a lot of people don’t want them to go, young women are being inspired to take on leadership positions to become active and to develop their political voice. That’s something I want to see from women whether you’re white or black, Republican or Democrat, I think across the board we need more representation of women voices and leadership. Personally, I’ve been seeing people realize what issues they are passionate about and working for them. This summer during my travels, I met a wide group of activists, artists, feminists, creatives who are doing all that they can to speak out and stand up.

Your poetry collection, "The One for Whom Food is Not Enough" explores themes of race, adolescence, and feminism. Since publishing your first collection in 2015, have you seen your poetry subjects evolve?
My writing is always evolving, to fit the moment and time, and to fit the issues. I hope that 40 years from now, gender disparity isn’t so prevalent that I have to be writing about it. But I will say, certain values of mine will always be persistent. For example, I will always be passionate about children and youth and the opportunities they have, specifically for education. I will always be passionate about fairness and equality.

How do you manage being a freshman in college and doing everything else?
I really don’t know. My friends always ask me, "How do you go to New York so often to speak and still survive at school?" But what I have been the doing the work of an activist and working in education for a while now. I’ve been doing speaking engagements and also taking my education very seriously since middle school. It’s never been an option for me to half-do my classes in order to speak at more places or be Poet Laureate. I’ve had years to find an active balance between my education and the work I do in my community. Once you prioritize that, it’s "eat, pray, love"—not really. "Work, love, knowledge," that’s my trinity. I can’t focus on who is popular or not, what other people are doing. I don’t focus on what other people think of me, I’m very much in my own lane. As long as you’re in your own lane, you can drive as fast as you want to.

I wish I knew you when I was 19.
I was named Poet Laureate when I was 19! Oh, I am 19. Sometimes I feel like Cicely Tyson in a 19-year-old body because I forget I’m 19.

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What are you looking forward to in 2018?
I’m excited to be concentrating in sociology at school. I’m going to be working on a thesis. Michelle Obama actually concentrated on sociology, too. Which I thought was interesting. I want to do a thesis studying social movements and how when we leave out women and queer people from the conversation in leadership positions, we actually harm our own ability to mobilize. There’s really no empirical analysis of that. If you read about that online, there are a lot of normative pieces but there has been very limited empirical research on that subject. While academia has written a lot about inequality and now intersectionality and visibility, I’ve spent so many hours in the library trying to find articles that have statistics and ethnographies that analyze my question, and there hasn’t been a lot of funding historically, so we don’t see that. Also the voices that would bring that up, say black women, indigenous women, only recently have been included in the fold of sociology.

You’ve previously stated your intentions to one day become president, will you be working on that in the new year?
What I can say is I learned a while ago that I love writing but personally, for me, I know I can’t make the type of change that I want to see which is policy, where funding goes to, education and curricula, without also educating myself further beyond poetry. That’s why I decided to run in the future for political office and further down the line to become POTUS. I mention this a lot, I’m in love with him, Barack Obama. I thought it was a phenomenal event in his farewell address where he mentioned, "If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself."