Meet the First Youth Poet Laureate
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, anchor:
We’re back with our special series, Breaking Through TODAY in honor of Black History Month.
HODA KOTB, anchor:
Yeah. This morning, a spectacular young lady who has already accomplished so much. Jenna has her story.
JENNA BUSH HAGER, reporting:
KOTB: Hey, Jenna.
BUSH HAGER: Hi, I love her. Amanda Gorman is the first youth poet laureate in the U.S., using pen and paper to give a voice to social change.
AMANDA GORMAN: Since I’m the first one, I get to set a precedent. What do I really want to see in the poetic realm in the United States? You’re as wide as the Pacific tide.
BUSH HAGER: Amanda Gorman is the first ever youth poet laureate in the U.S. What is it like to be a first?
GORMAN: It’s intimidating. I never really thought that I would be that person who is the first because I remember when I was little reading about people. It doesn’t get past to me that not only am I the first youth poet laureate, but at the same time I’m the first woman youth poet laureate and the first black youth poet laureate.
BUSH HAGER: 19 year-old Amanda was awarded the prestigious title last April at Gracie Mansion in New York City. A lot of your poetry focuses on social change, social justice. Where does that passion come from?
GORMAN: I think that passion comes from my heritage. It comes from this place where like I must write. I must speak up because there’s been too many people who have been kept from that opportunity.
BUSH HAGER: Who inspired you growing up?
GORMAN: My mother.
HAGER: Amanda grew up in Los Angeles and she attributes a lot of her success to her mom, Joan Wicks, a teacher who raised her and her twin sister as a single mother. Amanda’s passion for poetry started in the third grade. Talk to me about when you first knew you loved poetry.
GORMAN: I was around seven or eight years old. And my teacher, Shelly, had us reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. I was like, oh, my goodness, Bradbury just related candy to something completely different. That’s what I want to do with my life. That’s who I want to be.
BUSH HAGER: I love there was a metaphor. You were--
BUSH HAGER: --a third grader with a metaphor and that’s all you needed.
GORMAN: The metaphor hit home. It was like magic. Poetry has definitely been one of the most stable expressions for me of my identity and who I am. I love when I’m writing to have just all these books of people I look up to beside me. What I really like to do is choose like one word from each of like a collection of books I have make a word cloud and select them to make a new poem.
BUSH HAGER: But public speaking didn’t come naturally.
GORMAN: …heal our past and will always be our future.
BUSH HAGER: It took courage, determination and grit for Amanda to get on stage. You’ve spoken about having a speech impediment. And do you feel like in some ways that led you to poetry?
GORMAN: Oh, 100%. And a lot of times, I talk about having a speech impediment. The difficulty of literally speaking up for myself, the voice I’m hearing the loud, I can’t pronounce Rs, I can’t pronounce shh. It kind of sounds a bit garbled. But I hear this strong self-assured voice when I’m reading this, you know, simple text. And what that told me is the power of your inner voice over that what people might hear through their ears. The only thing that could impede me was myself.
BUSH HAGER: Now a sophomore at Harvard, Amanda started One Pen One Page, an organization inspiring other young writers to share their voices. So in a world that I think needs light constantly and a world where social change is being talked about a lot, where does poetry come in?
GORMAN: Poetry is at the forefront of that from the declaration of independence to Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech, poetry has always been the thread that has woven throughout kind of the fabric of America and global history. I straddled black girl’s tango between northern heights. The blood of my pen against the cool flesh of my journal.
BUSH HAGER: What is breaking through, breaking boundaries? What does that mean to you?
GORMAN: I think breaking through, especially in this day and age, is not only breaking through the door but it’s holding it open so that other people can come through. When we write an American lyric, we are just beginning to tell. Focus on your path. Focus on your purpose and how you specifically and specially as yourself can break through a barrier.
BUSH HAGER: As youth poet laureate, Amanda travels the country sharing her love for poetry and she already has her calendar marked. Mark yours.
BUSH HAGER: She plans to run for president in 2036.
AL ROKER: Of course.
SHEINELLE JONES: Wow.
BUSH HAGER: Yes. I’ve already put my vote in. Is that okay? She is so awesome.
AL ROKER: What an impressive young woman.
BUSH HAGER: I loved her.
BUSH HAGER: Oh, and by the way, she has a very big crush, even though he’s married, on Lin-Manuel Miranda.
ROKER: Of course.
BUSH HAGER: So she shares that with Savannah.
BUSH HAGER: And so Lin-Manuel--
GUTHRIE: I knew I liked her.
BUSH HAGER: --she is a talent. Reach out to her on Twitter.
GUTHRIE: I know. And he’s a poet, too.
BUSH HAGER: Right.
GUTHRIE: They would have-- yeah.
BUSH HAGER: They’d have some things to talk about.
SHEINELLE JONES: What a great story!
GUTHRIE: Thank you.