Super U Podcast | Amanda Gorman
Our new episode of the Super U Podcast is live! The Super U Podcast delivers curated tips from top performers and thought leaders to help unlock and unleash your inner superpower. This week’s episode features tips from the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, as well as an award-winning writer and cum laude graduate of Harvard University, Amanda Gorman. She has written for the New York Times and has three books forthcoming with Penguin Random House. Click here to subscribe to the Super U Podcast. Need a sneak peek? Below are the main takeaways from the episode.
Super U Podcast | Amanda Gorman:
[02:22] Find the Strength to Speak Up
“Most of my life I was particularly terrified of speaking up because I had a speech impediment, which made it difficult to pronounce certain letters, sounds, and I felt like I was fine writing on the page. But once I got on stage, I was worried my words might jumble, and stumble what was the point and trying not to mumble these thoughts in my head if everything’s already been said before. But finally, I had a moment of realization, why I thought if I choose not to speak out of fear, then there’s no one that my silence is standing for. And so I came to realize that I cannot stand standing to the side standing silent, I must find the strength to speak up. And one of the ways I do that is through this module that I call auto ancestors. These are people who might not be related to you by blood, or by birth, but who are more than words, saying their names because you stand on the shoulders all the same. And it’s only from the height of these soldiers that we might have the sight to see the mighty power of poetry, the power of language made accessible. Expressible poetry is interesting because not everyone is going to become a great poet.
[3:54] Practice and Learn From Other Great Orators
For me, it’s not only the question of is what I’m writing as powerful as it can be. And then there’s also the question of how am I going to physically perform this as someone who still to this day, struggles heavily with sound with annunciation and for me, it was a lot of practice that makes perfect. Part of that included the flashcards of practicing words. But also, interestingly enough, something that I do sometimes to help me with my speech impediment is I will watch and listen to other great orators and try to embody them… like Barack Obama, who’s great. Martin Luther King, I’ll watch the speeches on because he’s a phenomenal orator, but even like the cast of Hamilton, there are so many hours in that Aaron Burr, sir, and so I practice that song on before performance and it really helps me work on what I need to work on.
[6:34] Recognize and Use Your Opportunities
I think for a lot of students at Harvard, and I’ll just speak for myself, you arrive, and all of a sudden, you are bestowed with a type of privilege that people around the world, you know, would give so much for. I remember a distinct memory when I was walking past a wider Hall library, which is this gorgeous library. And I was just seeing all of these tourists with faces pressed against the glass. And it was this moment of, I’m the one behind the glass. I’m the one with the power that this line of children visiting want to have access to. And for me, it was a question of now that I’m here now that I have this access, what am I going to do with it? And for me, it doesn’t just stop at my own educational my own degree, it’s taking the historical legacy of Harvard and what it represents in the type of power that holds, and then translating that into my own work as an activist and a writer.
[8:30] Words Are Powerful
To me, words matter. And I think that’s kind of what made this inauguration that much more sentimental and special. We’ve seen over the past few years, the ways in which the power of words has been violated and misappropriated. And what I wanted to do is to kind of reclaim poetry as that site in which we can repurify, re-sanctify not only the capital building that we saw violated but the power of words, which invest that in kind of the highest office of the land.
[9:33] Write Down Your Priorities
“What I think really helps me is being really explicit about what I want to contribute out of my life. And that means writing it down, reciting it to myself. So if I know that what matters to me is family, my friends, my education, but also being a specific voice in this specific field. All of a sudden, managing my time becomes so much easier, because rather than having everyone else decide what’s important to me, I’m telling them. I’ve vocalized it, for example, even with pitching this book, every single meeting that I sat down, I said, “great, that’s how much you want to offer, how much are we giving back to First Book? How much could we give them to this type of program that would do this with the books?” And because I walk into my life, my meetings, the bus, my classes, already with those aims explicitly inscribed on my head, it becomes so much harder for the chaos of politics and just daily life to knock those down. So I think any way that you can write down whether it’s on your wall, on your phone, or whatever, what really matters to you to boils down drags the hot bottle tea of your life. What are the five ingredients? You know, when they’re like gluten-free, water-free, whatever, like, what are you free in your life? And what are the ingredients that you have to write down and also tell your friends…”
[12:29] Use Your Platform to Uplift Others
Highlights but for me, the moments that keep me going the moments that would rejuvenate me, and why do my work, is kind of like a lot of the moments I think all of us have talked about on the panel. It’s that person who comes up to you after the performance or after the reading and tells you their story. And I mean, one of the things that I continually deal with is growing up having a speech impediment, and it coming back in moments when I’m most nervous. So you can imagine going live on MTV is kind of a moment when I’m a bit nervous about what I’m about to do. And you know, trying to make decisions of how I want to navigate that. Do I want to change the way I speak? Do I want to change the way in which I present myself? And when I was named US Youth Poet Laureate, I made a conscious decision to not erase those scars of myself and to not waste that process that I’ve had of dealing with an auditory processing disorder, dealing with a speech impediment while being a speaker that travels around the country. And time and time again, I will get on stage and tell my story. And especially that I remember that first night when I was named the US Youth Poet Laureate of Gracie Mansion, there was a girl that came up to me with her mom, and she was like six years old. And she has these big brown eyes. And she starts talking to me about how she has that same exact auditory processing disorder that I have in speech impediment, but because of me, she’s inspired to write and share her voice. And I don’t think highlights get better than that. I really don’t. It’s not that I’m trying to convert people to poets. I’m not trying to make all the little children that I meet with become published authors. That’s not my duty, but my duty is to make them believe in themselves. And that has been the greatest highlight that I think I’ll ever have in this position.
[15:06] You Are More Than Enough, You Are Here For A Reason
Harvard has been very interesting. And I’ll say something that I had to approach when I arrived there. You go to Harvard and the thing that people use to describe is, it’s a lot of sharks, who are used to being the biggest fish in the pond; and all of a sudden, they’re in the ocean, and you’re like, whoa, there’s a giant squid over there who published eight books, fixing cancer, like all of these other things. And I think, especially when you’re a woman, especially if you’re a person of color, you step into that type of Ivy League environment, and you go, “what an honor for me to be here at Harvard.” In my second year, I started thinking, “What an honor for Harvard for me to be here.” And I don’t say that with pretentiousness, I don’t say that with ego, but it’s me really owning up to the history and the legacy of the institutions that I’ve been lucky enough to have a key into.
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