Poet Amanda Gorman's Journey From LA To Inauguration: 'The Way She Sees The World Is Amazing'
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When Amanda Gorman was a teen, years before she recited her poem "The Hill We Climb" at President Joseph Biden's inauguration today, she used to look forward to Wednesday afternoons. That's when she would share coffee cake and hot chocolate (sometimes juice) with her writing mentor at a coffee shop close to her school.
For nearly two years, Michelle Chahine Sinno, supported Gorman through the L.A.-based non-profit program, WriteGirl, a volunteer organization that helps teen girls hone writing skills, from poetry to journalism. Mentors and mentees meet one-on-one and often work through prompts together. Once, Chahine Sinno remembers asking Gorman to write about the view from the West L.A. cafe.
"When she was reading to me what she saw I was amazed... and this was just a city sidewalk," Chahine Sinno said. "The way she sees the world is amazing....from the mundane to today, talking about democracy."
Chahine Sinno joined a group of current WriteGirl students, mentors, and alumnae this morning for a virtual watch party to see Gorman recite her poem on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. (Full disclosure: I'm one of the alums -- I took part in WriteGirl's workshops at the same time as Gorman.)
As the morning went on, more teens joined the Zoom call (some in pajamas) in anticipation of Gorman's reading. In the chat, participants reminisced about Gorman's time in WriteGirl, and occasionally called out glimpses of her bright yellow coat in the inaugural crowd. By the time Gorman took the stage, tissues were out and the messages were blowing up.
Victoria Rosales, a current WriteGirl and high school student, listened to the poem and felt grateful to be part of the same writing community.
"This was absolutely wild." Rosales said. "It's really cool to see young women of color getting up there and blowing everyone away."
You can listen to Gorman's recital of "The Hill We Climb" here:
Gorman, now 22 years old, was 14 when she joined WriteGirl. She was named the first-ever Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate while she was still in the program.
"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 said in a WriteGirl press release. "Special shout-out to my former mentors Michelle and Dinah (Berland). Couldn't have gotten here without you!"
Chahine Sinno was proud when she heard that Gorman would be reading at the inauguration -- but not entirely surprised. She knew her mentee had ambitious goals, even as a teenager.
"Her dream when she was 16 or 17, was to become president," Chahine Sinno said. "When I first saw this news, I thought to myself, 'Wow, she got to that podium way earlier than she even thought she would'."
When she was working as a volunteer, Chahine Sinno remembers that Gorman considered herself as a fiction writer more than a poet, and was in the middle of writing a novel.
"She'd come with pages and pages. Interestingly, it was filled with poetry, but she may not have known it," Chahine Sinno said. "Once she got on stage a few times, and got on the microphone ... that's when she found her home in the world."
At the time, Gorman was still working through a speech impediment, just like President Biden struggled with as a boy. Gorman worked hard for years in performance workshops, Chahine Sinno said, and today, she couldn't detect a lisp at all.
"They were on live TV, in front of millions, giving probably the most important -- for him a speech, for her a recitation -- of their lives. They could do it, and it was flawless," Chahine Sinno said.
Gorman was hesitating to apply to be a Los Angeles youth poet laureate during her time in the Writegirl program. Chahine Sinno encouraged Gorman to apply and helped her with the process, but says she can't take credit for her mentee's talent.
"At the time, I felt Amanda knows more than me, she's a better writer," Chahine Sinno said. "But it's just about being there for someone at a moment when it's important."