Amanda Gorman wowed the country when she read her poem “The Hill We Climb” during President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris‘s inauguration. Michelle Obama was in the audience proudly watching as 22-year-old Gorman recited lines calling for unity.
Obama and Gorman first met at a White House event for the National Student Poets program in 2016 and later crossed paths in 2018 while they both were in attendance at an event for the female-empowerment organization, Black Girls Rock. Gorman is in the midst of a skyrocketing career with two best-selling books and an upcoming appearance at the Super Bowl—and now a Time magazine cover, which included an interview with Obama.
“We’re living in an important moment in Black art because we’re living in an important moment in Black life,” she told Obama. “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.”
Amanda Gorman was extremely poised during her inaugural poem. She struggles with a speech impediment (as President Biden has), but she’s overcome it and said it made her a writer. At one point in the interview, Obama explained her own experience with public speaking and the nerves she still feels. “No matter how many speaking engagements I do, big audiences always trigger a little bit of impostor syndrome in me,” Obama revealed. Gorman understood and replied, “Speaking in public as a Black girl is already daunting enough, just coming onstage with my dark skin and my hair and my race—that in itself is inviting a type of people that have not often been welcomed or celebrated in the public sphere.”
Gorman took the interview as a moment to clarify her speech’s theme of unity, explaining that not all forms of unity are constructive. “To me, unity without a sense of justice, equality, and fairness is just toxic mob mentality,” she said. “Unity that actually moves us toward the future means that we accept our differences—we embrace them and we lean into that diversity. It’s not linking arms without questioning what we’re linking arms for. It’s unity with purpose.”