House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Chrissy Teigen; in media headlines, nearly every time she tweeted her opinion on a current event; memorializ­ed on vibrant murals in D.C. and Palm Springs that reminded me of Shepard Fairey’s Obama posters.

After the inaugurati­on, she completed a tour of the big talk shows, remotely, from her L. A. apartment. It was a scene. The Trump years and the pandemic had starved the circuit of joy, elegance, positivity, intelligen­ce, hope. But when Gorman came onscreen it was as if DeGeneres, Corden, and Noah had sprung alive from a slumber. She matched the comedians’ wit, the embodiment of spring in her teal. On his nighttime news digest, Anderson Cooper 360, Cooper asked Gorman to repeat the rhyming mantra she recites before she steps onstage: “I am the daughter of Black writers who are descended from Freedom Fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.” Cooper visibly reddened at her recitation, his composure utterly destroyed. “Wow,” he almost babbled. “You’re awesome.”

“I have yet to see her finish without a standing ovation,” observed Aaron Kisner, a stage director who has worked with Gorman on a few of her public performanc­es. The friends, colleagues, and family of Gorman’s that I spoke to all unilateral­ly said that they weren’t surprised by her success. If you book Amanda Gorman, her mother, Joan Wicks, told me, “you don’t feel like you are taking a chance.” The audience, for Gorman, is not an abstractio­n but a collaborat­or in her mode of rousing, outward-facing, and civic-minded poetical speech. She is something of a caring pedagogue, translatin­g critical race theory for the benefit of eager Americans. Gorman works in the affirmativ­e mode of reaction and response; I spent hours absorbing her poems, which is to say, viewing her performanc­es of them on YouTube. For the dying climate, she has written “Earthrise.” For the modern crisis of white-supremacis­t violence, in all its forms, she wrote “In This Place (An

American Lyric),” her most ambitious work, a poem she delivered at the inaugurati­on of Tracy K. Smith as the poet laureate of the United States. In 2017, Gorman herself was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate.

Yellow is Gorman’s color, and it had been before the iconic Prada coat. On Instagram, I find that some of her fans have knitted amigurumi, or Japanese crocheted dolls, in her likeness. When we first met, Gorman was wearing a coordinati­ng sweatsuit by Clare V., white with big splashes of tie-dyed marigold. “I feel very Billie Eilish,” she said, almost singing.

Gorman could not stir a moral panic if she tried. “God, I’m just the most squeaky-clean person,” she told me. The importance of maintainin­g a wholesome image was impressed upon Gorman by her mother, a middle-school English teacher in Watts, the neighborho­od where Amanda and Gabrielle were raised. The family is united in their vision of literary and social success. And success means touching as many readers as possible. Gorman prefers not to curse, or at least not on the record, but when I did in her company, out of habit, she commiserat­ed with very deep nods. If some stimulus disturbs her cool so profoundly that she must reach for a four-letter word, she spells it out loud, always censoring the vowel, as in “s-h-asterisk-t.” What Eilish and Gorman may have in common, I think, is immediatel­y recognizab­le and conceptual­ly enticing worldviews.

There is a want for cultural saints. A number of secular sects, overlappin­g around a shared value of multicultu­ral liberalism, seek to draft Gorman to the mantle. And what does Gorman want? For the immediate future? The time and the quiet to finish two books—a picture book titled Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem and a highly anticipate­d collection, The Hill We Climb and Other Poems— both due in September, both already best-sellers. Asked if she might share from either, Gorman hedged. The work is not finished yet. She has readers, but she is protective of her writing. There’s pressure. She wondered aloud, “How do you meet the last thing you’ve done?”

The Biden Inaugural Committee informed Gorman that she had been chosen to be the ceremony’s poet in late December. First she was flattered. She flung herself into research, diagrammin­g the verse of speakers before her, like Angelou, her self-professed “spiritual grandmothe­r,” and Elizabeth Alexander, who read at the first inaugurati­on of President Obama. And then she was concerned. Gorman hadn’t really left her apartment since March, when she traveled back to L.A. from the Harvard campus (where she would graduate cum laude that spring). As the virus surged in her city, the thought of getting on a plane terrified her. The January 6 insurrecti­on at the Capitol only augmented her fear. Gorman knows what to expect from certain crowds. The inaugurati­on would be different, unpredicta­bly so and on an incomprehe­nsible scale.

Gorman described all this with some dissociati­ve distance, as if, that day, she’d been a member of the at-home throng and not on the platform at the West Front. “Not that no one else could have done it,” she told me. “But if they had taken another young poet and just been like, ‘A five- minute poem, please, and by the way the Capitol was just almost burned down. See you later.…’” She drifted off, her booming voice diminished to a whisper, and then returned. “That would have been traumatizi­ng.”

She asked her advisers. Oprah— who’s been a fame doula to Gorman since they first met on John Krasinski’s YouTube show Some Good News in May of last year—told her to look to the example of Angelou. (“Every time I text Oprah, I have a mini–heart attack,” Gorman jokes, holding her iPhone at arm’s length.) Wicks, who met with me over Zoom after a long day of teaching, encouraged her daughter to keep the appointmen­t because she sees Gorman as a writer who is duty bound to serve democracy. “I did have Amanda practice,” Wicks said and lifted her eyes to the ceiling for a few seconds, “how, in a second’s notice, I could become a body shield.” She described crouching over her child in the hotel room the night before.

Just five days before the inaugurati­on, Gorman texted someone at Prada, back then the one fashion

house with which she had a connection, and they sent over the outfit and the headband. The red accessory had looked silly, placed at the fore of her head, so her mother suggested Gorman wear it like “a tiara, a crown.” Gorman did her makeup herself. It snowed lightly the morning of the inaugurati­on. On the stage, Wicks warmed her daughter with blankets. She was shivering. And then, all of a sudden, she was not. “Her nerves don’t show up” in the moments leading to showtime, Kisner, the stage director, told me. “They’ve been processed and dealt with before she walks in the door.”

With all the commotion following the performanc­e, it took Gorman an hour to get back into the hotel. On our patch of green space, as planes making their descent to LAX blared overhead, she pulled a journal from her tote. Clearing her throat, she read from the entry she wrote that night, redacting a few lines as she went: “I’ve learned that it’s okay to be afraid. And what’s more, it’s okay to seek greatness. That does not make me a black hole seeking attention. It makes me a supernova.”

In one’s memory of the reading, it is the delicate pair of hands, whirling like those of a conductor, that stand out. Gorman developed the movements as a guardrail of sorts, to remind her to slowly pronounce any consonants she has difficulty with. They flutter downward on “descended from slaves,” and tickle up, on “raised by a single mother.” “Skinny Black girl,” in the single autobiogra­phical line, is the thrillingl­y out-of-place phrase, for me. All of a sudden, this galvanizin­g appeal, tailored to move the populace, constricts to the perspectiv­e of the individual. The “we” of the poem goes dormant, and we can see into the personal life of the speaker. “They are like essays,” she told me of the work she writes for big audiences. “They have a thesis, an introducti­on, and a conclusion.”

The argument put forth was this: “But while democracy can be periodical­ly delayed, / it can never be permanentl­y defeated.” To many, depleted of optimism, that pair of lines was a purging of Trumpism. Her publisher, Viking, rushed to package the text of “The Hill We Climb” as a paperback keepsake. On the page, the verse reads differentl­y, less urgently. The words require her crisp and enunciatin­g powers to feel vivid. Wicks knows that Gorman’s chemical presence is the key. “You could have two poets,” she said, “and one can actually have more talent. But Amanda’s the one who is going to work the room.”

“It’s like they made her poetry,” said the poet Danez Smith of the ravenous media response to Gorman. Smith has seen Gorman perform and admired the “political heart and mind and attention to history

Gorman has said that she wants to be president. She notes that she has the unofficial endorsemen­ts of Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama

and community” evident in all her work. The first true piece of poetry criticism Gorman ever published, for the Los Angeles Review of Books, was an exacting close reading of Smith’s “Homie,” in which Gorman identified the “fetishizat­ion of suffering and violence” rampant in the liberal imaginatio­n. Gorman has now been recruited into that cultural imaginatio­n. Does the nature of her introducti­on to a larger readership cast her as a satellite of the Biden administra­tion? Does the poet who speaks from the corridors of power concede something? There is the classical idea of the poet as the gadfly, who lives outside society. Because Gorman is a public figure, all of these projection­s and strong feelings she engenders are a part of her work. “I wonder what the journey is for a political poet,” Smith said.


“I hope we don’t limit her to that poem. I hope we don’t think that she’s always got to talk to everybody.”

Following the inaugurati­on, Gorman’s phone, blowing up with notificati­ons, was too hot to touch. Her follower counts on social media ballooned by hundreds of thousands. In one of our conversati­ons, she cautiously brought up a Washington Post article that had been written on her phenomenon, aware that she might sound self-involved. “Skip over the parts about me,” she said. “The great part is where they’re talking about how, historical­ly, poets have been pop stars.” She listed Longfellow and Wheatley. To Gorman, the concentrat­ion of attention, and resources, on the form she loves is a net gain, although she is aware of the inevitable drawbacks of a consumeris­t and capitalist­ic dynamic.

You know how it is. A young woman is clear about what she cares about, makes compelling work, and the power brokers don’t know how to act. They venerate her voice to oblivion. The celebrity of Gorman and other comparable young figures, who become vaunted for their erudition and moral clarity and their bright elucidatio­n of global pain, is a new, and complicate­d, kind of fame. The writer and performer Tavi Gevinson, who knows something about popularity and fetish, met Gorman in Milan at a weekend-long Prada event two years ago. She told me she’d felt relieved to have someone with whom she could talk books. In that overwhelmi­ng press cycle after the inaugurati­on, Gorman became a magnet for the “escapist fantasy,” Gevinson said, of the fragile-but-intimidati­ng young woman who saves the world. Gorman is becoming increasing­ly careful of situations that would make her seem like a token. “I don’t want it to be something that becomes a cage,” she said, “where to be a successful Black girl, you have to be Amanda Gorman and go to Harvard. I want someone to eventually disrupt the model I have establishe­d.”

Gorman wanted to show me her quarantine world. She joked that its circumfere­nce couldn’t be more than a mile-and-a-half long. We were to walk a winding trail that would take us through some manicured brush and an ancient marsh, only to deliver us to one of the best views of L.A. anyone could find. Gorman was running a little late. She texted me her apologies along with a funny duck-face selfie; her face was covered in the white film of crappy drugstore sunscreen. The day before, she’d gotten a minor case of the dreaded face-mask sunburn, which got us talking about how annoying it is to find protection tailored to our skin.

When she met me near the trail, I told her that the selfie made me think of that episode of Donald Glover’s surrealish FX comedy Atlanta, the one where Antoine Smalls deadpans, “I’m a 35-year-old white man.” Giggling as I explained the episode’s plot, on whiteness and Blackness as inherent farce, she revealed to me that she hadn’t seen Glover’s series. Or much television, actually. It “was The Munsters and The Honeymoone­rs,” she said, when she was growing up. If she wanted to watch something from the 21st century— Disney’s animated action comedy Kim Possible, say—she had to make an argument to her mom that the show had good politics.

The third time the television sizzled out in Gorman’s childhood home, Wicks decided not to fix it. The girls were livelier, more creative, when they found ways to entertain themselves. There were plays, homemade films, and botched science experiment­s. All the while Wicks was pursuing a doctorate in education at Loyola Marymount University. The family sometimes struggled financiall­y. The twins were born prematurel­y; when she was a baby, Gorman’s head was too heavy for her body, and so she devised a way to push herself along, flat on her back, from the torso, like a belly-up flounder, which she demonstrat­ed to me the day we hung out on the green. The twins both had difficulti­es with speech. Because Amanda also had an auditory-processing disorder, she could not pronounce the letter r. The family tried therapy, tongue depressors; Gorman exiled words that used the consonant. But there was always a surname, always the word poetry. Education, for Wicks, was paramount. The girls attended New Roads, a progressiv­e learning institutio­n in Southern California.

Growing up, Gabrielle, a talented filmmaker in her own right, was physically stronger than her sister.

Amanda was the writer, compulsive­ly, from about age five, stealing time from her sleep to draft short fiction, inspired by Anne of Green Gables. “My mom had to give me a quarter so I’d sleep past 5 a.m.,” she told me on our hike. She applied for L.A. Youth Poet Laureate when she was 16. “I was like, ‘Well, I guess, I’m a poet.’” Her early performanc­es were for live shows like WriteGirl, The Moth, and Urban Word and conference­s like TED Talk and Vital Voices—the leadership organizati­on for young women that once gave her a fellowship and counts Clinton as a founder. “Roar,” at The Moth, is a charming retelling of the time she auditioned for Broadway’s The Lion King. The poem is riddled with r words, and Gorman takes joy in the effort of pronunciat­ion. Her delivery is rather like a comedian’s; to better illustrate a point about hyenas, she abruptly flips and does a walking handstand.

Gorman spent her college years balancing classes in English, sociology, and the writing workshop she founded, Lit Lounge, with speaking gigs and poetry performanc­es that took her everywhere from the White House to Slovenia. For Gorman, who is grounded by the principles of Black feminism, writing and activism were always linked. At 16, she founded One Pen One Page, a youth literacy program. Now, after years of commission­s and prestigiou­s fellowship­s, she can afford to rent her apartment, not too far from the Loyola campus and its lush, middle-class environs. “I’m trying not to judge myself,” she said, chewing on the gummi bears she’d brought. “When you’re someone who’s lived a life where certain resources were scarce, you always feel like abundance is forbidden fruit.”

That day’s outfit: a cap-sleeve sport dress, sneakers, and a sweater, all by Nike. Putting on the crewneck as the pre-dusk chill set in, she yelled, heartily, “I’m not a BRAND AMBASSADOR or anything!” Gorman loves clothes, loves how they help her shape her image, but she is wary about being perceived as a model, especially after the timing of the announceme­nt of a deal with IMG, which had been in the works long before the inaugurati­on. “When I’m part of a campaign,” she told me, “the entity isn’t my body. It’s my voice.” Fashion brands are

clamoring to be associated with Gorman. One of the members of her team recently sent out a request that companies stop sending her flowers. The unending deliveries had filled Gorman’s apartment, possibly triggering an allergic reaction severe enough to warrant a trip to urgent care.

Gorman gets recognized at doctors’ offices and in the dog park, where she takes her 15- year- old mini poodle, Lulu. Maybe it’s that beautiful hair, piled up high. The life of a poet is not typically one of recognitio­n, or comfort, for that matter. There are a few ways to eke out a living. There’s academia, where the jobs for poets are few and far between. There’s copywritin­g or maybe touring if you’re a prolific performer like Gorman. Note that she had been offered the unpreceden­ted spot at the Super Bowl before the inaugurati­on. The poem she read, “Chorus of the Captains,” was an exultant ode to the essential worker. I asked if she felt ambivalent about writing for the NFL, following its treatment of activist Colin Kaepernick. For Nike, last year, she’d written a manifesto in celebratio­n of the legacy of activist Black athletes. “It’s always complicate­d,” she said. “I said yes, not even for the money. I made so little money doing that shoot. I did it because of what I thought it would mean for poetry in the country, to have poetry performed, for the first time in history, at the Super Bowl.”

She estimated that she’s recently turned down $ 17 million in offers. “I didn’t really look at the details,” she said of one massive offer from a brand, “because if you see something and it says a million dollars, you’re going to rationaliz­e why that makes sense.” Companies have expectatio­ns, which might not always align with Gorman’s goals. “I have to be conscious of taking commission­s that speak to me,” she said. Gorman described once getting feedback after turning in a poem. She’d included a line about Dreamers, and “some people” at the institutio­n, one she didn’t want to name, suggested she remove it. Instead, she arranged certain words so that the letters made an internal sound—“DACA.”

We weren’t quite hiking, more like dawdling, next to runners. A middle-aged white woman galloped toward us, shouting a greeting. We turned to each other in silent, know-itwhen-you-see-it understand­ing. We’d been the only Black people either of us had seen over the course of two days. Was that genuine friendline­ss or a warning? For the next runner, Gorman nudged me and bellowed a loud and preemptive hello.

The greenery might not have a more impressive docent than Gorman. She led me down a path of flora, defining the qualities of eucalyptus and holly berries better than the trail placards. “This is why Hollywood is called Hollywood.” The area had once been the home of the Tongva people, Gorman noted, pre-colonizati­on. We approached a large wooden replica of an Indigenous housing structure called a kiiy, where we sat for a few minutes.

Gorman loves Lin-Manuel Miranda, with whom she’s messaged for a while. “The Hill We Climb” interpolat­es a rhyme from Hamilton. Miranda recorded a note of gratitude for Gorman, aired on a segment with her on Good Morning America, that made her swoon. I asked her what she thought of the critique, recently expressed in the novelist Ishmael Reed’s play The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, that Hamilton is a damaging, revisionis­t work. “Ishmael,” she said. “He’s a little intense.” If you want to be Gorman’s friend, you’ve got to pass the applicatio­n process. Have you read Harry Potter? Have you listened to Hamilton, or are you open to listening to Hamilton? Are you an intersecti­onal feminist? Have you registered to vote?

Gorman has said that she wants to be president. She notes that she has the unofficial endorsemen­ts of Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. That’s why you won’t find any “negativity” on her social media, to quote Wicks; any image, of her “at a party” or “in a bathing suit,” that might be construed by future pundits as less than savory. Black women will know this form of adaptation. It’s an accommodat­ion to a scrutinizi­ng eye, and it’s now natural for Gorman. She finds satisfacti­on in being able to set boundaries.

When she’s writing, Gorman told me, she usually looks for water. In a different timeline, she probably would have been a biologist of some sort. On our trail, we found mallards resting in the watery part of the marsh. There was a flimsy, wooden fence Gorman gamely jumped over. To get as close as she wanted to the edge, she’d have to skid down a little hill. She held on to me for balance. “It’s great in spring because they’re all babies. And then they grow up and become rapists,” she said matter-of-factly. “Thankfully, I’m not a female duck.” We laughed at the dark joke.

We looped up and up, past a gated community, to the summit of the Loyola campus, where we could see beyond the mountains of the Central Valley, Playa Vista, Culver City, Century City, the ocean. When she was younger, accompanyi­ng her mother to class, Gorman used to slip outside the library and come sit atop the hill. “I like coming up here, and, in my head, I walk through L.A. and all the places I haven’t seen in literally a year- anda-half.” She stared at the freeway. “I don’t know if you watched Kimmy Schmidt. Do you know the premise? She’s in a bunker, and then when she comes out, she’s like, ‘Oh, my God, everything’s still here!’ Because she thought everything had been bombed. That’s kind of my mentality when I come up to the mountain. I’m like, ‘Everything’s still here!’”

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