The Washington Post spoke to the 22-year-old on Saturday about the moment, and her message to America and the world in the runup to President Joe Biden swearing in Wednesday on the U.S. Capitol’s West Front. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
The Post: You’ve had quite a journey to this point. When you were asked to be the youngest inauguration poet ever, was it an easy “yes”?
Gorman: Ha! I said yes immediately then danced around and screamed. But I can tell you with all that joy there was still a huge sensation of responsibility … it was a “heck yes” and then “let me get writing!”
The Post: I understand that you had a speech impediment growing up … that’s something you share with Biden. Have you had the opportunity to talk about that with him or those around him?
Gorman: You know what, I had the opportunity to talk to him. He called me this morning. … We did not talk about our speech impediments. Maybe it’ll come up at the inauguration … [Saturday’s call] was mostly him being gracious and congratulating me.
The Post: There aren’t many spotlights brighter than a presidential inauguration. I know that many of your poems have strong political content. What’s your first political memory?
Gorman: No one’s ever asked me that before! My first political memory? I would say it wouldn’t be anything like being at a protest or anything like that. It would be: When I was really young my mother would read me my Miranda Rights and make sure I knew them. My mom was not playing around.
When you are a Black child growing up in America, our parents have to have what’s called ‘the talk’ with us. Except it’s not about the birds and the bees and our changing bodies, it’s about the potential destruction of our bodies.
My mom wanted to make sure I was prepared to grow up with Black skin in America, and that was my first awakening to the political climate I was stepping into.
The Post: What sort of guidance did you get from Biden’s team about what to say?
Gorman: They’ve been really gracious in that they gave me complete freedom about what to write. Something we did agree on, something that I felt was really important, is we felt the necessity of having a poem that spoke to an America uniting together.
The Post: As a deadline-driven reporter, I feel this one in my bones, Amanda: Is the inauguration poem finished?
Gorman: It is. Though I often change one word or two. And I probably will when I speak. It’s just something I do.
The Post: The political speechwriters I know always think not only of the person giving the speech, trying to write in their voice, but also of the audiences, plural, that they want to reach. What audiences did you have in mind as you crafted the inauguration poem, and what audiences will you have in mind when you speak?
Gorman: That’s a really challenging aspect of an inaugural poem [because of the size and diversity of the audience]. When I started to write, I thought of the grandparents, the children, the fathers and the mothers. I want every single one of them to feel represented in my words. So, as I was writing, rather than keeping a specific person or prototype in my mind, I tried to imagine if I could gather a group of Americans in my living room, and I wanted to replicate that sensation of intimacy and closeness in my poem. How would I speak to someone at my dinner table who is grieving, and tired, and distraught?