December 7, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Poet Amanda Gorman transfixes Anderson Cooper with her mantra

Like much of the nation on Wednesday, youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman left CNN‘s Anderson Cooper speechless during their post-inauguration interview.

The two had been discussing her powerful work “The Hill We Climb,” the Capitol riots and how she also overcame a speech issue that prevented her from pronouncing the letter “R.” The interview eventually built up to the 22-year-old L.A. native’s recitation of her personal mantra — which she says before each performance — that left the cable star at a loss for words.

“I am the daughter of Black writers. We are descended from Freedom Fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me,” Gorman said, echoing a line and nod to Disney’s “Moana,” one of “Hamilton” scribe Lin-Manuel Miranda’s works.

“Wow, you’re just, you’re awesome,” Cooper replied. “I’m so transfixed.”

The spoken-word artist, who was hand-selected by First Lady Jill Biden, appeared on the news program after stealing the show Wednesday during President Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration ceremony. Gorman garnered praise from the likes of Miranda, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and so many more who were moved by her verses.

In no time at all, the author, who has penned three books, saw her sales soar on Amazon. Her titles — “The Hill We Climb: Poems” and the children’s book “Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem” — became the first and second best-sellers on the list. They were followed by Meena Harris’ “Ambitious Girl” (inspired by her aunt, Vice President Kamala Harris) and President Barack Obama’s memoir “A Promised Land.”

Gorman who has said she wants to run for president when she’s old enough to be eligible in 2036, told Cooper that she was “overjoyed” by the reception and will be “processing it for a while.” She also gave him a glimpse of her creative process, explaining that she had been researching orators such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass to prepare for her performance and reading the inaugural poems that came before hers. (She was also got a fashion assist from Winfrey.)

Gorman was about halfway through that process when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, referencing the siege in “The Hill We Climb” and injecting its significance into her work. Gorman told Cooper that instead of looking at the haunting images of that day, she read tweets and articles because “text motivates her.”

“To me, words matter. And I think that’s what made this inauguration that much more sentimental and special,” she said. “We’ve seen over the past few years how the power of words has been violated and misappropriated. What I wanted to do is to kind of reclaim poetry as that site in which we can re-purify and re-sanctify — not only the Capitol Building that we saw violated, but the power of words and to invest that in the highest office of the land.”

She added: “We need to realize that hope isn’t something that we ask of others. It’s something that we have to demand of ourselves. And that’s what I wanted the poem to end on.”

Her poise and eloquence gave no hint at the speech issues she only recently overcame through writing. It was a process she also discussed with Cooper, who struggled with a speech impediment himself.

“I’m proud to be in the speech-difficulty club with you and President Biden and also Maya Angelou,” Gorman said.

But it wasn’t a stutter for her; it was dropping a whole swath of letters from the alphabet. Mainly the letter “R.” That’s when she saluted Miranda’s “Aaron Burr, Sir,” a song from the blockbuster musical “Hamilton” that’s packed with the “R” sound and helped her work through the issue in college.

“[I] would try to keep up with Leslie Odom Jr. as he’s doing this amazing rap,” she said. “If I can train myself to do this song, then I can train myself to say this letter. That’s been a huge part of my own speech pathology. It’s why I included it in the inaugural poem. Also, beyond that, I think ‘Hamilton’ is a such a great American cultural piece about what it means to be a better country.”

“It was really hard for me not to copy and paste ‘My Shot’ and e-mail it to the inaugural committee,” she added.

All that love for Miranda wasn’t lost on him. The Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award winner surprised Gorman Thursday during her remote appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“The right words in the right order can change the world, and you proved that yesterday with your brilliant piece,” Miranda said, as an emotional Gorman almost fell out of her chair. “I’m so incredibly proud of you. I can’t wait to see what you write next. Keep changing the world, one word at a time. You smashed it!”