South LA

Poet and activist Amanda Gorman is applauded by the community that helped shape her career

Before she took center stage at the Presidential Inauguration and Super Bowl, this South L.A. native was developing her voice in local L.A. organizations.

One South Los Angeles native made history on not just one, but two of the most renowned national stages earlier this year. Amanda Gorman, 22, became the youngest poet to speak at a Presidential Inauguration on Jan. 20 and the first poet to perform at a Super Bowl on Feb. 7.

“Being American is more than a pride we inherit,” Gorman recited at the Inauguration. “It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

Former President Obama tweeted about Gorman’s performance, “On a day for the history books, @TheAmandaGorman delivered a poem that more than met the moment. Young people like her are proof that ‘there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it; if only we’re brave enough to be it.’”

Biden’s Inauguration was the most-viewed in American history, gathering about 33.3 million viewers according to NPR, while the 2021 Super Bowl attracted 96.4 million viewers, according to the NFL. The widespread reach of Gorman’s poetry caused a drastic increase in presales for her three upcoming books set to publish later this year, leading to Penguin Random House announcing an initial printing of 1 million copies for each book, according to USA Today.

After her speech went viral, she received support from her South L.A. community, including praise from members of St. Brigid Church on social media, a church that she grew up attending.

On the day of the Inauguration, St. Brigid Church took to Instagram to post a photo of Gorman’s televised speech with a proud message: “Our very own Amanda Gorman.”

Long before the South L.A. native shared her voice with the world, Gorman’s writing career took off at age 14 when she joined WriteGirl, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that inspires young girls and nonbinary writers to pursue creative writing and receive support from mentors who foster common passions.

Katie Geyer, WriteGirl Managing Director, spoke to Gorman’s lifelong talents.

“She’s always really captivated an audience. And it’s no surprise that she was able to captivate a world audience. Really, it’s not surprising at all that she’s been able to reach this level of success,” Geyer told Annenberg Media. “She has such powerful words, and I’m so glad that she’s been able to build the confidence to really share it with the world.”

Ahead of the Inauguration, Gorman acknowledged WriteGirl’s impact on her journey.

“WriteGirl has been pivotal in my life. It’s been thanks to their support that I’ve been able to chase my dreams as a writer,” Gorman told WriteGirl. “Special shout-out to my former mentors Michelle and Dinah. Couldn’t have gotten here without you!”

The WriteGirl community hosted a virtual watch party for Gorman’s Inauguration appearance.

“We had some of our teen girls at the watch party, and they were just so excited just to really, you know, see what is possible,” Geyer said. “If they really work hard, and they really believe in the power of their voice, they can achieve anything. I think that was a great reminder for all of the teen girls, and really for all of us staff members and volunteers alike, to really see what’s possible.”

Allison Deegan, who holds a doctorate in education and is the Associate Director of WriteGirl, has been with the organization since it was founded in 2001. Deegan recalls meeting Gorman and her twin sister, Gabrielle Gorman, when they first joined the organization.

“They were tiny, and they looked younger than their years, and you just wondered what you were going to see from people of this stature,” said Deegan.

Deegan also said that when Gorman first entered the program, she had some difficulty with speech and attended speech therapy. But despite her small stature, youthful appearance and challenges, Deegan said that Amanda’s “mighty” words made people “do a double take” whenever she spoke at WriteGirl workshops and forums.

“It was always clear literally from day one, that she had a lot to say — that they were large scale themes appropriate for everyone and that she was really intent on using her poetry to share really important messages,” said Deegan.

While many girls explore diverse forms of writing throughout the WriteGirl program, Deegan said that the South L.A. native was a “devoted” poet from the start.

“I don’t mean to say she didn’t write other things, but she defined both as a written poet and a performative poet very early on,” she said. “And you could see the cadence, you could see the hand movements, you could see the presence on the stage as she matured and grew into it — that was her thing.”

During her time in WriteGirl, Gorman was also named the first ever Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate in 2017. Michael Cirelli, the Founder of the National Youth Poet Laureate Program also spoke to Annenberg Media via email about Gorman’s “commitment to social impact and writing,” which is what made her stand out as a laureate all those years ago.

Cirelli shared his pride in seeing Gorman take the stage at the Inauguration and Super Bowl.

“It was incredible to see how our platform could be the springboard for accessing big platforms that traditionally do not include youth voice,” he wrote.

Since Gorman has been able to share her voice with a national audience and expand her platform as a writer, Cirelli said that he has reached out to congratulate her and that the young poet is “taking it all in and trying her best to savor the moment.” He also hopes that Gorman’s achievements will inspire current and future members of the program that first recognized her talents.

“We’re grateful that her success has broadened the spotlight to the hundreds of Youth Poets Laureate across the country and the many more that will follow in her footsteps,” Cirelli wrote.

Though Gorman’s ever-growing notoriety and merit comes as “no surprise” to Deegan, she could not help but feel emotional watching the poet speak at the Inauguration. She knows just how many years of hard work Gorman has put in and feels that it was a message that spoke to many viewers after the Capitol riots, including herself.

“I was so grateful for her to speaking to me, and certainly, I love her. I’ve watched her grow,” she said. “It’s one of the great thrills of my life to have played a small part in any of that, but if she could reach me with that depth, I knew that the depth with which she reached out to everyone was going to be so significant.”

While Gorman has been extremely busy as of late, Deegan said she has been able to congratulate her and send her a few funny text messages about her budding success.

“All you have to do is appear at the World Cup final and everyone on planet earth will know who you are, or maybe the Oscars,” she said she texted Gorman. “And I joked that I’m sure somebody’s going to be inviting you to go into outer space pretty soon.”

Gorman’s presence has also resonated with communities outside of WriteGirl. Deegan even said that Gorman not only has inspired many young people from around the country to reach out and join their program, but that she has also received emails from friends who want to turn Gorman’s speeches into parts of their developing language arts and creative writing lesson plans for students.

With all of Gorman’s recent accomplishments and all the future holds, Deegan hopes to honor her at WriteGirl’s Bold Ink Awards later this year. This benefit recognizes women writers who inspire WriteGirl with their storytelling and serve as strong role models for members.

Until then, Geyer said that the WriteGirl community will continue to celebrate Gorman’s achievements and is excited to see where her writing voice takes her next.

“I think the future is really anything Amanda wants it to be. We’re just always going to be here to cheer her on and support her no matter what her future holds. She’s mentioned that maybe one day she’ll run for president,” Geyer said. “And no matter what it is she ends up doing, WriteGirl will be here cheering her on.”