by Natalie Durkin
photograph: Courtesy of Black Enterprise Magazine
“It’s fantastic to be a poet in L.A., and to be an Angeleno.” That’s right, our country’s chosen wordsmith is one of our city’s own. Amanda Gorman was born near Los Angeles International Airport, fitting considering she has wings rivaling any aircraft’s. Her path to poet laureate began “at the cross-section of diametrically opposed neighborhoods; the economically stable and largely black population of Ladera Heights, the cultural vibrancy of Inglewood, the rich and sprawling Ballona Wetlands and blue Marina lining the sea.” Gorman attended middle school in Malibu and high school in Santa Monica. Trekking up, down, and around the coast cemented her love of “diversity, inclusivity, and crossing geographical barriers.”
Gorman was in tenth grade when she was named our city’s Youth Poet Laureate. “I didn’t necessarily consider myself that strong of a poet, but I was glad to see that the role included a commitment to social justice, service, and community change. All of these have been of utmost importance to me, so I sent in poetry, a video of myself performing poetry, and my resume.” She was then named the YPL of the West and, in April 2017, the YPL of the United States.
Gorman is all over the map. She recently wrapped up her freshman year at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which she says, was quite an adjustment in terms of her literary work and personal life. “I enjoy the hustle and bustle of NYC and Boston subways, of getting on a train and feeling myself speed through a city. I appreciate that high-energy, just as much as I appreciate the laid-back warmth of L.A.,” she gushes. “I always love that Los Angeles, because of its Latino influences, has a poetry scene with such a richness in Hispanic literature.” Gorman incorporates her love of the Spanish language into her class schedule to keep her appreciation alive and skills sharp.
Gorman’s days vary greatly from the average college student’s. She jets back and forth from the dining hall (you can find her there answering business emails to the Hamilton soundtrack), classes, her dorm (where she has her phone interviews and tries “to write at least for 15 minutes” before dozing off each night), and into New York City for speaking engagements. I wonder if the teenage powerhouse has any time to herself. She assures me she does, and says to unwind she likes to, “sit by a tree in a patch of grass and listen to relaxing music, or watch the water ripple along the Charles River.”
Beyond Harvard and her YPL duties, she is the Executive Director of One Pen One Page, a nonprofit committed to literacy. One Pen One Page is funded through the HERlead program, and, once Gorman returned to Los Angeles after HERlead’s leadership program, she “began a reading rewards program at a school in an underserved community, and launched an online literary magazine.” Gorman oversees “securing yearly funding for OPOP, being the overall editor of our online mag (onepenonepage.org) and our digital campaigns, organizing and helping lead workshops, and building effective partnerships with other educational and youth programs around the country.”
Gorman is also an ambassador for School of Doodle, commissioned writer, and author of The One for Whom Food is Not Enough. She will never fall victim to over-exerting herself, though, as she closely examines where to put her energy to ensure she utilizes her artistic and humanitarian heart in the most positive and beneficial way she can. “I take on a project if I feel it will have a meaningful impact, align with my values, and introduce me to good-willed people.”
Her love of literature and activism fuels her fire; she recognizes she is blazing this trail for life. “I hope that one pen, one page, one word at a time, I can help make the world a little brighter.” Fittingly, Gorman’s favorite color is yellow, possibly an ode to the sunny City of Angels. “Los Angeles means so much to me; often on the bus I’ll breathe deeply and think of how much I love this city. It’s in my blood, from the beaches swelling with people to our amazing art museums. It’s fantastic to be a poet in L.A., and to be an Angeleno. I’m always amazed by the artistry, compassion, and inclusive thinking of Angelenos I meet daily.” Gorman is truly one of the auspicious citizens of our city she so admires.
You can find Amanda on:
#tribelamagazine #losangelesart #youthpoetlaureate #amandagorman #losangelespoet #allartallthetime
Natalie Durkin is a content contributor and social media assistant at TLA Magazine. She is a student at Bard College in New York’s idyllic Hudson Valley and returns intermittently to L.A. to see her parents and black Labrador Retriever, Buoy. Don’t ask her what she is majoring in; she doesn’t know yet, but she plans on pursuing a career in drama therapy. Once, she was a debutante. Sometimes, she is an actress, waterskier, and snow skier. She is always a Sex and the City fan, animal lover, and proud Angeleno. Nat’s website is: https://nataliedurkinwriting.wixsite.com/nataliedurkin