By Alessandro Gisotti
The media in the United States agree: Amanda Gorman stole the show at President Joe Biden's inauguration with her poetry. At just 22 years of age, she became the youngest poet to perform at a presidential inauguration ceremony in the United States. With "The Hill We Climb," the young African-American Catholic moved America and the world with her performance. She made the dream of a "healed" humanity tangible, a dream that finds hope in suffering but does not resign itself to letting conflict and division prevail. In this interview with Vatican News and Osservatore Romano, Amanda dwells on the power of poetry as a means of reconciliation at a time fraught with polarization. She underscores the urgency of investing in education as a way to change the world and offer a better future to the younger generation.
Pope Francis on many occasions has emphasized how important it is to build bridges, to dialogue and to work courageously for reconciliation. Do you think that poetry, can help heal the wounds that divide our world?
Absolutely. Poetry is the language of reconciliation. It often reminds us of our best selves and common values. It was that legacy that I really leaned into while writing The Hill We Climb--asking myself basically: "What can this poem do, here and now, that prose cannot?" There is a specific power in poetry to sanctify, purify, and rectify, even amidst discord.
Poetry is sometimes associated with the intellectual elite or something only for adults. What would you say to young people who are inspired by your poetry and appreciate your young age?
It's unfortunate that often poetry is taught in school's as if it's only the arena of an old, dead, white and male intellectual elite, when in fact poetry is the language of the people. I'd tell other young people that poetry is vibrant and ever-changing, and the art form belongs to us all, not to a select group. We need your voices, we need your stories, so don't be afraid to pick up a pen.
Malala, Greta Thunberg, now Amanda Gorman: in recent years we've seen many young women emerge as leaders of movements that are challenging the powerful of the earth. Do you think this marks a lasting change?
I think we're seeing young women leaders gain a global stage because it represents a larger global phenomenon: young people, especially young women, around the world are rising up and taking their place in history. For every Amanda, there are countless more like me. I may be unique, but I am in no way alone. The world is being rocked and changed by the next generation, and it's time we listen to them.
As a child you had a speech impediment which you overcame, and today the world admires you for your eloquence. In your opinion, how important is education in order to change our world?
Education is everything. I'm the daughter of a teacher, so I always have taken my education seriously. I understood at a young age that knowledge is power. For marginalized people, it can be one of the most important instruments in our toolbox. In order to change the world, we have to question it, have to examine it; we have to look at the whole expanse of history and see how it ties to the present. I have no doubt that many more great social movements will begin in the classroom.