The Amanda Effect

The best advice I’ve received in my life has been from my mother who quotes Polonius in Hamlet, saying, “To thine own self be true.” She must have told me that every few days growing up, literally while I was taking my lunchbox out of the car. The best advice I received this year would be from Oprah Winfrey, who told me that “no” is a complete sentence.

What advice do you have for all the little Amanda Gormans out there who are looking up to you and the path you’re blazing. What do you want them to feel, and what do you want them to know?

I would say don’t dream to be the next Amanda Gorman. Dream to be the first you. We need new, diverse, different voices, and the world isn’t served if people imitate me. The more that we have people who are excellent at doing what they do, I think the brighter and bolder we’ll all be for it.

What would you say to seven-year-old Amanda, if you could meet her now?

Seven is such a specific age!

I know. I feel like seven is the age when you start to develop your sense of self.

Yes, and puberty is just on the horizon so it’s make-or-break time. What would I tell her? I would tell her what’s on my sweater right now: “My Voice Is Vital.” I just used to be so ashamed and feel so guilty about having a speech impediment and speaking the way that I did. I felt like it was this ugly, degenerate part of me. It took me so many years to learn that it’s actually one of the most beautiful things that makes me who I am. I would have tugged seven-year-old Amanda to the side and said, “Listen, your voice is going to change the world. There is nothing to be ashamed about.”

What would she be most proud of—seven-year-old Amanda?

In a spiritual sense, I think seven-year-old Amanda would just be proud that 22-year-old Amanda is still herself and who she is. I think that’s been one of the most core principles of my life. No matter how the world changes, I want to stay the same. I want to evolve, and grow, and develop, but still keep the DNA of who I am.

In terms of what I’ve accomplished, when I was little, I really wanted to be published. That was it for me. The fact that I was published and then saw my own name on the New York Times Best Sellers List—I feel like my seven-year-old self would have thrown up on the mat with shock.

Photographed by Shaniqwa Jarvis; styled by Jason Bolden; hair by LaRae Burress; makeup by Joanna Simkin. Photographed at Jumel Terrace Books in Harlem, specializing in African and African-American art, literature, music, and history.

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