It may feel like a lifetime ago, but it was only last year that Amanda Gorman was catapulted to global fame after a poignant recital of her poem “The Hill We Climb” emerged as one of the undeniable standouts of President Biden’s inauguration. In the wake of the event, Gorman’s books shot to the top of bestseller lists, her poems were translated into dozens of languages, and she herself was quickly signed by WME and IMG Models, becoming a “global changemaker” for Estée Lauder and appearing on the cover of Vogue. “I mean, a lot has happened,” says Gorman, laughing. “But to be honest, it still feels like yesterday.”
Now, the 24-year-old poet is adding a new string to her bow. Launching today, Gorman will teach her very own MasterClass in writing and performing poetry, lending her voice to a streaming platform that features figures at the very top of their fields providing structured courses to help anyone with an interest learn more about their craft.
For Gorman, the priority was to balance the technical side of writing poetry with her own, more personal views on what poetry can bring to the world through performance and activism. “It all began with the question: How do you create or come up with ideas for poetry?” Gorman explains. “What are the tools and instruments of rhetoric that you can use to make a poem stronger? And then how can you bring that poem to life on the stage or in front of an audience? And last but not least, how can that lyricism change and impact the world? I think the class follows the structure that I try to follow in my own life.”
In keeping with Gorman’s twin career as an activist, the course has deeper resonances for her too. Not only is it an intentional means of democratizing the process of learning about poetry, but her Writing Change initiative with Estée Lauder will sponsor a significant number of MasterClass memberships for nonprofits encouraging young women to write, including WriteGirl, the Los Angeles-based organization where Gorman got her start. “It’s a huge full-circle moment for me,” she notes.
Here, Gorman talks to Vogue exclusively about the lessons she’s learned about teaching from her mom, how she plans to make poetry more accessible, and the story behind the powerful poem she wrote recently in the aftermath of the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings.
Vogue: What about the idea of doing a MasterClass appealed to you when they first reached out?
Amanda Gorman: I think a few reasons sprang to mind. One, I’m the daughter of an English teacher, and so making language, the arts, and creative writing accessible has always been something that I’ve tried to keep at the forefront of my mind throughout my career. With the pandemic, and schools being closed or lessons held remotely, I wanted to find a way in which I could continue giving people access to poetry. Even if I wasn’t able to be in a classroom or in their living room physically, I wanted to find a way that kind of equalized the opportunities that people might have to engage with my work and the work of other poets I admire. MasterClass definitely came to my mind, in part because I’m a MasterClass student as well, and I’ve taken a few of their other classes before. And so I started brainstorming: What would it look like to make poetry visible in this learning space?
Did you take any tips from your mom, or did she offer you any advice?
[Laughs.] That’s so funny. I’m mostly laughing because my mom is such a strong, smart woman, so you definitely would think that she gave me advice, but I also think she likes to mostly just let me do my thing. Really, most of the advice I’ve gotten from my mom about teaching I’ve learned over the course of my lifetime, watching my mom while she was getting her EdD, and so everything I’ve learned from her has kind of been absorbed through osmosis. But I was really honored that after all the experience she has, she kind of trusted me to do my own thing and was so excited to see how I navigated this class in particular. Because although my mom’s an English teacher, she’s not a poet and has never really written poetry. So I think she’s excited to see her daughter teach this art form that she herself is still learning about.
You also talk in the MasterClass about the importance of being a change-maker. Was it your intention that the skills you’d be sharing in the course extended beyond the technical skills of writing poetry, and also touched on the role it can play in wider social or political conversations?
I think the activist instinct comes quite naturally to me, because that’s what got me interested in language in the first place. And so while I do look at the technicalities of the craft in the class, it’s even more so about how those technicalities inform the importance and magic of words, and how language can spearhead movements and change. And so my hope is that by understanding the mechanics of poetry, you can then begin to better conceptualize the way in which words bring thoughts into action, and action into transformation.
You recently wrote a powerful poem in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. What prompted you to both write and publish that?
Obviously, I wrote that poem a million years after filming the MasterClass, but it does still originate from that same place inside of me that doesn’t just want to write but to do right as well. I don’t want my words to just be pretty flashy things, but words that build momentum on themselves. And like so many people, I was horrified by what happened in Texas, by what happened in Buffalo, by what’s been happening, quite frankly, all over our country, in terms of gun violence against the innocent. At first, I told myself I wasn’t going to write a new poem, mostly because I felt like I couldn’t. This pain of losing so many innocent people to gun violence isn’t new in the United States, of course, and I felt like I was incapable of personally writing anything new about it. But late at night, a day or two after the Texas tragedy, some ideas were formulating in my brain, new and old. And as I began tweeting them out, I saw a huge influx of responses to them, to the point that in a few days, those verses I had posted online had helped raise over a million dollars [for Everytown for Gun Safety]. That was just so incredible to me, and I knew then that I had to keep writing, because that was at least one of the ways in which I could continue to participate in changing our country to where we need to be. And so I wrote “Hymn for the Hurting” in the hope that those words could continue to make people’s pain feel seen and heard, as well as most importantly, acted upon.
Clearly, you enjoyed doing the MasterClass. Is teaching something you see in your future?
Oh, 100%. I love teaching so much, and I think that’s something I missed the most out of many things during the pandemic. There’s nothing quite as magical as being in a classroom of students and seeing them discover poetry or find their own voice for the first time. I just think that’s the most thrilling thing. And doing the MasterClass, I think I was able to get a piece of that back during a time when that wasn’t accessible for everybody. So I definitely see teaching in my future. Also, my mom would be incredibly disappointed and surprised if I said no to that question. [Laughs.] It’s in my veins.
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