Exclusive Interview with Amanda Gorman, Youth Poet Laureate of the West and U.N. Youth Delegate

By Tina Lu

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview one of the most impressive teenage females this country has seen. Yet to enter college, Amanda Gorman has already served as the first-ever Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, as a U.N. Youth Delegate at the UN Headquarters in New York City, and as an ANNpower Vital Voices fellow in Washington D.C. Gorman is also the author of “The One For Whom Food is Not Enough” and the founder of One Pen One Page, an organization that promotes literacy and youth activism.


If you’re interested, here is Amanda’s longer bio, taken directly from her website, http://www.amandascgorman.com:

Amanda Gorman, 18, is a poet, community leader, and commissioned speaker.  As the first ever Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate, she toured Los Angeles, read for the mayor, worked with the LA Commission on Human Relations to brainstorm youth programs, and published a collection of poetry, ‘The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough’. An award-winning writer, she is founder and Executive Director of One Pen One Page, a nonprofit organization that promotes literacy and leadership through creative writing workshops. She is also Editor-in-Chief of the OPOP online literary magazine, which elevates the voices and powers of youth through literal and visual storytelling . OPOP now has partnerships in Afghanistan and across the U.S., and is building programs in Kenya. As Executive Director she is designing a curriculum that will enable educators around the world to use creative writing in the classroom.

She has served as a United Nations Youth Delegate in New York City, where she worked with UN representatives, activists, and non-governmental organization to propose solutions for equality, hunger, poverty, water, sustainability, and human rights. She has been an ANNpower Fellow in Washington, D.C and a ANNpower Global Delegate in London at the TrustWomen Conference. She appeared on The Today Show for her work supporting the Bring Back Our Girls movement, spoke at the British Consulate for A World at School, worked with 72andSunny Productions to pitch a girls’ education commercial to Starbucks, and is currently organizing a poetry contest that will feature Malala. She is a teen editor and Ambassador for School of Doodle (schoolofdoodle.com), an innovative online high school. She provides a constant stream of content, helps develop their poetry curriculum, manage their Diversity Committee, and build their other financial and creative educational programs. In 2015 she served as Director of the youth-led organization “Art You” Poetry Initiatives.

She was awarded an Outstanding Community Service Award by the city of Los Angeles and a Certificate of Recognition for her leadership by the California State Assembly.  She has appeared Nickelodeon and ABC Family for her activism, and has been featured in The Argonaut and Cultural Weekly. She has been commissioned to write for the Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Grand Park Festival of Books, the PAWs organization, Live Talks LA, and more. Her work is in the award-winning WriteGirl anthologies ‘You Are Here’ and ‘Emotional Map of Los Angeles’, The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Lament for the Dead, and mariashriver.com. Currently she is preparing to study political science and creative writing at Harvard University.

Be prepared to read some of the most eloquent interview answers, ever. I learned so much from Amanda, and I am sure you will too!

Q: When did you first become interested in poetry?
A: I always enjoyed telling and writing stories, ever since I was little. Around 5th grade I really got into songwriting, and after a while I realized that songs are basically cousins to poetry, and I began focusing on that art form instead.
Q: Why did you first start writing poetry?
A: I felt that poetry was a more freeing form of expression for me than songwriting–for one, I never could sing my lyrics, because at the time I wasn’t that great of a singer. Also, just as a personal sense of style, I felt more room to explore with shape, space, breaks, and non-rhyming in the form of poetry. It also helped make me a better novel writer, as my prose became more fluid and metaphorical.
Q: How did you become the first LA Youth Poet Laureate?
A: I found out about the application and sent in some videos of myself, some poetry, and my community service. At the commencement event they named me the LA Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, which was so shocking and amazing all at once. Recently I was named the Youth Poet Laureate of the West, which is such an honor.
Q: Tell me more about your organization One Pen One Page. What exactly do you do?
A: One Pen One Page aims to elevate the voices of young and marginalized voices through storytelling initiatives. We have three focuses–our in-school programs, leadership programs, and our online platform. At schools we teach creative writing workshops or initiate reading rewards programs. We help youth develop their leadership skills through our annual Write On Leadership and Literacy Symposium, as well as our club chapter programs that lets young activists form their own OPOP chapters. Our online platform, onepenonepage.org, allows students from all over the globe to share their stories and enter contests.
Q: How did you become a U.N. Youth Delegate?
A: I remember seeing a video of Malala speak to U.N. Youth Delegates, and I remember thinking: “I want to do that!” I applied to a delegation for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women through SustainUS, a delegation that mostly had college students (I was 15 at the time, the youngest delegate). After I was accepted I fundraised for my trip, and after months of hard work, found myself at the UN in New York City.
Q: What do you think is the biggest problem our society faces? How do you think we can solve that problem?
A: It’s hard to distinguish one societal issue as ‘bigger’ than another, but one issue I feel needs more addressing is racism. What troubles me most about this system of oppression is how divisive it is among its victims, specifically people of color. I am concerned that it has succumbed to a white-black binary, where we only see stories in the media of a white male cop and black male. There are so many other victims of violence in this issue who are trans, brown, female, special needs, etc, that are rendered faceless and voiceless. I want to see people in marginalized groups, especially young people, unite with effective change-making strategies that cross lines that divide. We can do this peacefully on political and social levels, one step at a time.
Q: How have you been able to tie your passions for writing and activism together?
A: Usually my stories include a comment or question on the current human condition in a world consumed by systems of oppression. If I feel my work and words don’t add to that conversation, if they don’t inspire, engage, and advocate, then that poem feels empty and one-dimensional. I must write about the issues that matter. It’s not a choice, but a deep moral necessity.
Q: What do you plan on studying in college? Why did you decide that choice of study?
A: Right now I’m looking at studying Government/Sociology at Harvard, while also studying Creative Writing. I am intrigued by social studies because I feel it is vital to understand society, politics, and community if I wish to make sustainable change. I also want to pursue storytelling as an avenue for creative advocacy.
Q: What was the most eye-opening experience in your life? How has that impacted you?
A: That’s a difficult one! It was particularly game-changing when people started giving me feedback on my book, The One For Whom Food Is Not Enough. Not only was it this dream-like moment that my poetry was published, but I was also amazed by how many people connected with it or were moved by it. Here I was, deeply doubtful and anxious about my work, and people who had read it were telling me how the poems affected them. It made me realize that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, and that words, stories, and narratives can truly resonate and heal, even if the author is insecure.
Q: How has having a twin impacted you?
A: Sometimes it was rough feeling like I didn’t have my own individual identity, but I LOVE having a twin. It’s like having the very bestest of best friends with you since birth, who will always have your back, or always know what obscure Rugrats movie you’re referring to. My twin sister and I push each to be our best selves, to choose what is right and helpful. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but even the storms are pretty darn fun.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to another aspiring female leader, what would that be?
A: Do YOU! I remember comparing myself to so many other young women around me who were doing amazing things for their communities, and I felt like a fake. I reminded myself that everyone has different paths and different realities. Find what changemaker strategy works for you. Maybe you want to advocate for people through art, or maybe through non-violent marches. If you want ideas on being a leader as a young woman, visit http://www.schoolofdoodle.com, a new online platform for teen girls/nonbinary individuals. I’m an editor/ambassador there and we’re always exploring this topic, asking: What is your passion? What are your hobbies? What makes you smile? Combine what makes you you with activism, and you’ll set the world on fire.
Again, I would like to thank Amanda for agreeing to do such a wonderful interview with me! I hope you guys learned as much from her as I did!

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