Poet Amanda Gorman opens up to Michelle Obama about impostor syndrome and being in the spotlight

Madison Feller
·3-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

President Joe Biden's inauguration this January had a number of surprise stars: Second daughter Ella Emhoff's coat, former First Lady Michelle Obama's belt, Senator Bernie Sander's mittens—but none that captured the nation quite like 22-year-old Amanda Gorman. On 20 January, Gorman, who's also the first National Youth Poet Laureate, became the youngest inaugural poet in US history when she performed her inspiring piece, "The Hill We Climb," gaining instant and widespread praise.

Now, in a new interview for TIME—just one part of the magazine's latest project celebrating the power of Black art—Gorman sat down with Michelle Obama to discuss unity, optimism, and poetry as a catalyst for change. Obama also asked Gorman about her experience with impostor syndrome, admitting that, "No matter how many speaking engagements I do, big audiences always trigger a little bit of impostor syndrome in me."

"Speaking in public as a Black girl is already daunting enough," Gorman responded, "just coming on stage 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. Beyond that, as someone with a speech impediment, that impostor syndrome has always been exacerbated because there’s the concern, is the content of what I’m saying good enough? And then the additional fear, is the way I’m saying it good enough?"

Gorman also told Obama how she related to the former First Lady's memoir, Becoming, specifically when Obama wrote about the pressure that comes with being the partner of someone running for public office, aka former President Barack Obama.

"There was one moment that spoke to me," Gorman said, "the experience of Barack being on the campaign trail and you flying in with maybe one or two members of your team, rushing to an event, you all doing your own hair and makeup. There have been times where to speak I’ve taken the train, had to do my makeup and hair in a Starbucks, walked myself to the venue, and then I’m performing in front of 1,000 people."

"For Black women, there’s also the politics of respectability—despite our best attempts, we are criticised for never being put-together enough; but when we do, we’re too showy," she continued. "We’re always walking this really tentative line of who we are and what the public sees us as. I’m handling it day by day."

Right now, Gorman's days also include taking over Amazon's bestseller list and gearing up to perform a poem at the 2021 Super Bowl. But she wants people to know that while this visibility might be new, it is not temporary.

Gorman told Obama that so often girls of colour are treated like "lightning or gold in the pan" instead of "things that are going to last." She said, "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."

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