Amanda Gorman: America's future tense

The day Amanda Gorman stepped onto the U.S. Capitol dais in 2021, she became more than the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Her words three years ago turned the former Los Angeles youth poet laureate into an instant icon, down to her meme-ified yellow jacket and bright red headband. Just weeks after an insurrection on those very steps, “The Hill We Climb” became both a balm and a promise that there was a way up and out, if the country could only get there together.

If that promise remains unfulfilled, its messenger remains a potent symbol of the possible. Her unifying verses were drafted into a war erupting in classrooms over the inclusion of diverse authors addressing race and gender. Last May, Gorman’s poem, adapted into a book, was pulled from school shelves in Florida as the result of one parent’s complaint.

Gorman, 26, swiftly took to Instagram to share the news with more than 3 million followers, advocating not just for herself but for the thousands of authors facing an unprecedented surge in book bans. With one post, she raised more than $80,000 for the literary and human rights nonprofit PEN America.

It’s not just the money, but the reach: Gorman has galvanized a growing counterforce against speech restrictions. Kasey Meehan, director of PEN America’s Freedom to Read Program, told The Times that those donations, along with Gorman’s continued amplification of their work, has made a difference.

“Her [interviews] led people to our websites” as they “were searching for Amanda Gorman,” Meehan said, calling her “a generational unifier.”

It’s not the only time the Angeleno has turned her fame into action. She raffled off signed copies of her book to raise $60,000 in the wake of last year’s Maui wildfires and wrote poignantly in the New York Times about the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea at a time when few Americans were paying attention.

Last June, Gorman was a closing speaker at the annual conference of the American Library Assn., one of the grant recipients of Gorman’s $3-million initiative, Writing Change. Emily Drabinski, president of the ALA, told The Times that younger voices such as Gorman’s are essential in motivating leaders to fight book bans with as much coordination and fervor as their opponents.

“It means a lot to us, as library workers who aren’t famous,” Drabinski said. “Library workers everywhere are facing the kinds of attacks that were directed at Amanda’s book.” Gorman let them — and others — know they were not alone.

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