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Michelle Obama, Amanda Gorman discuss inauguration poem and ‘renaissance in Black art’

Author Amanda Gorman discussed the poem she read at President Biden’s inauguration last month and a current “renaissance in Black art” in a new conversation with former first lady Michelle Obama.

Obama asked Gorman what she makes of “the current renaissance in Black art—this surge of creativity we’ve seen over the past six years or so,” in an interview published by Time magazine on Thursday.

Gorman responded that “We’re living in an important moment in Black art because we’re living in an important moment in Black life.”  

“Whether that’s looking at what it means politically to have an African-American President before [former President] Trump, or looking at what it means to have the Black Lives movement become the largest social movement in the United States. What’s been exciting for me is I get to absorb and to live in that creation I see from other African-American artists that I look up to,” Gorman told the former first lady. 

“But then I also get to create art and participate in that historical record. We’re seeing it in fashion, we’re seeing it in the visual arts. We’re seeing it in dance, we’re seeing it in music. In all the forms of expression of human life, we’re seeing that artistry be informed by the Black experience,” she continued. 

Gorman rocketed to stardom after reading her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration last month. 

The women in the Thursday conversation also discussed the political implications of Gorman’s poetry in the wake of the deadly riot at the Capitol last month and the demonstrations last summer calling for widespread police reforms.  

Obama noted that Gorman hit a nerve in calling for unity in her poem, “especially after the chaos and violence we’d experienced leading up to the Inauguration.”

“To me, unity without a sense of justice, equality and fairness is just toxic mob mentality,” Gorman explained. “Unity that actually moves us toward the future means that we accept our differences—we embrace them and we lean into that diversity.”

“It’s not linking arms without questioning what we’re linking arms for. It’s unity with purpose,” also adding that she believes “poetry and language are often at the heartbeat of movements for change.” 

The former first lady also noted that Gorman’s inauguration poem states that she is a descendant of slaves in the U.S., asking her what role she believes poetry can “play in helping you make sense of our history?”

Gorman credited Obama’s 2016 speech at the Democratic National Convention for inspiration, in which she said that “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.”

“Poetry is the lens we use to interrogate the history we stand on and the future we stand for. It’s no coincidence that at the base of the Statue of Liberty, there is a poem. Our instinct is to turn to poetry when we’re looking to communicate a spirit that is larger than ourselves,” Gorman said. 

Gorman appears on the cover of a February issue of Time magazine, and she is set to perform an original poem ahead of Super Bowl LV on Sunday.

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