Seattle African-American writers reflect on inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, nation's first youth poet laureate

Inauguration Day in 2021 can be defined as a day of firsts. For Vice President Kamala Harris, it was becoming the first African-American, Asian-American, and female VP to be sworn into office. This marks the first time in recent memory where the Capitol lawn didn't have crowds of people, as a result of the pandemic.

For many, it was also the first time they had heard of Amanda Gorman. At the age of 22, she is the country's first youth poet laureate. Gorman read a poem she wrote called "The Hill We Climb" during the Inauguration Day ceremony. And while some may not have known Gorman before, they certainly know her now.

"When the day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?" Gorman read. "The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We've braved the belly of the beast, we've learned that quiet isn't always peace, and the norms and notions of what just is, isn't always justice."

Gorman was selected to be a youth poet laureate at the age of 16. Originally from Los Angeles, she attended Harvard University and after a few years, she became the first National Youth Poet Laureate. 

At 22 years old, she is the youngest poet laureate to speak at an inauguration ceremony. 

"We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming President only to find herself reciting for one," Gorman read.

Q13 spoke with members of Seattle's African-American Writers Alliance. They are a membership of published authors, poets, novices, and storytellers, who have been a part of Seattle since its founding in 1991. 

For some in the group, it was their first time hearing her work.

"I was not familiar with her and all of her accomplishments. But when I heard her, I just got chills, I have to say," said writer Merri Ann Osborn. "There's so many talented young people, and it was really great to have her be there representing in the African-American experience, the American experience, the young experience."

Many in the group noted Gorman's incredible ability to use different writing styles while combining her personality.

"Even the use of the pronoun 'we' to bring us all together, in contrast to 'I' or 'you.' I liked her balance and the construction of prepositional phrases. So, this is an art piece!" said Minnie Collins, a member of the Alliance. 

For Georgia McDade, one of the founding members of the group, Gorman's references to history are what stood out for her.

"She definitely has an old soul. I think what I loved best is the history. That she's sharp enough to know about the past, but she knows about the present," said McDade. "She makes me believe that we can do it. The line about 'just is', is not 'justice', I just love that." 

Poetry writers like Gaylloyd Sisson, also a member of the group, said Gorman's words resonated with so many people.

"As a poet, and Robert Frost does this too, when he wants to make a point, the last lines, he repeats it," said Sisson. "This young woman wrote this poem and now the world knows who she is. She just amazed me."

For newer members of the group like Noni Ervin, Gorman's poem speaks to the power of the youth voice.

"It was beautiful and she was amazing. And it was colorful. I loved seeing her, my little sister up there speaking to the nation and literally to the world," said Ervin. "I would say listen to it again, listen to it today, listen to next week. Listen to it, her hear and watch her."