Amanda Gorman—the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history who blew minds with her poem “The Hill We Climb,” one she finished writing after the attempted coup at the Capitol building by Trump-supporting white supremacists—is Time Magazine’s latest cover star. The interview, conducted by Michelle Obama, is full of gems. They duo discuss the current moment in Black art, the role of poetry in the Black Lives Matter movement, finding inspiration in social activism, among other necessary topics, but I’m mostly here for Gorman’s reevaluation of the idea of “unity.”
Michelle Obama: Your poem hit such a nerve, especially after the chaos and violence we’d experienced leading up to the Inauguration. After so much division, hearing your call for unity was something of a balm. Can you talk a bit more about what unity means to you?
Amanda Gorman: I’ve been meaning to clarify that. To me, unity without a sense of justice, equality and fairness is just toxic mob mentality. 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.
I only wish she threw in an “accountability” there, but “justice” is doing a lot of lifting. I sense she’s tip-toeing Republicans’ reading of “unity” and “healing” as impunity for Trump and his most dangerous supporters by arguing that equality can only come from progress—not forgetting or failing to question “what we’re linking arms for,” as Gorman puts it.
She also had the best response to a question about positivity, now that she’s become an emblem of it, and said that she generally feels hopeful.
Do you consider yourself an optimist? And if so, how do you hold on to that in hard times?
Definitely. Optimism shouldn’t be seen as opposed to pessimism, but in conversation with it. Your optimism will never be as powerful as it is in that exact moment when you want to give it up. The way we can all be hopeful is to not negate the feelings of fear or doubt, but to ask: What led to this darkness? And what can lead us out of the shadows?
One last question: Do you have any advice for young girls, and Black girls in particular, who earn their way into the spotlight?
My question is do they have any advice for me. I’m new to this, so I’m still learning. I would say anyone who finds themselves suddenly visible and suddenly famous, think about the big picture. Especially for girls of color, we’re treated as lightning or gold in the pan—we’re not treated as things that are going to last. You really have to crown yourself with the belief that what I’m about and what I’m here for is way beyond this moment. I’m learning that I am not lightning that strikes once. I am the hurricane that comes every single year, and you can expect to see me again soon.