Gorman gained recognition at the inauguration of President Joe Biden reciting her poem, “The Hill We Climb” on January 20, 2021. Gorman, age 22, was the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. Her performance at the inauguration went viral, and the inauguration itself was the most viewed in history with 33.8 million viewers, according to NPR. She is likely to reach an even wider audience during her performance at the Super Bowl LV pre-show February 7, which begins at 2 p.m. Eastern time.
Her new poem will recognize three Americans for their work during the coronavirus pandemic who have also been named as honorary captains by the NFL for the Super Bowl, NPR reported. They are Trimaine Davis, a Los Angeles teacher, Suzie Dorner, a nurse manager in Florida, and James Martin, a Marine veteran based in Pittsburgh who volunteers with the Wounded Warrior Project and who took in area kids facing struggles in their homes.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Gorman’s Mom, Joan Wicks, Is a 6th Grade Teacher in Watts, California
Gorman’s mother, Joan Wicks, teaches language arts to 6th graders in Watts, California, a neighborhood in southern Los Angeles. Wicks is listed as a humanities teacher at the Alliance Jack H. Skirball Middle School. Gorman told Black Enterprise about her mom’s support and encouragement to pursue a career in writing.
“I was showing my mom some of my work that I had been doing where I had been painting and doing visual art over my poetry and she was like, ‘This is something. You should keep on this path,’ and I’m very grateful that I have that type of supportive mom,” she said.
Wicks’ teaching page says:
The Humanities course goal is for students to master the 6th Grade Common Core English Language Arts standards using a historical lens to understand people, cultures, and events from the past and the present. Students develop the stamina and strategies needed for independent comprehension and deep reading of complex narrative and informational texts. Students also develop mastery in select 6th Grade Common Core Social Studies standards to further support their speaking/listening, reading, writing, and thinking skills. Additional focus on language and academic vocabulary also help students build these skills. Students demonstrate their knowledge through assessment, research, writing and digital presentations.
Her online 2020 curriculum included discussions of clips from the musical “Hamilton,” vocabulary lessons and discussions of techniques such as figurative language. Students with high scores earned pizza.
2. Gorman’s Mom Encouraged Her Daughters to Write & Enrolled Her in a Creative Program When She Was Struggling With a Speech Impediment
Gorman’s mom, Joan Wicks, enrolled Gorman and her twin sister Gabrielle in a non-profit organization called WriteGirl based in their hometown of Los Angeles, according to a profile the organization wrote on Gorman.
WriteGirl was founded to empower girls and encourage creative expression. Gorman joined the organization at age 14 to help cope with a speech impediment.
“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,” she said in a statement to the organization. “Special shout-out to my former mentors Michelle and Dinah. Couldn’t have gotten here without you!”
3. Gorman’s Twin Sister, Gabrielle Gorman, Is an Activist & Filmmaker
Gorman is a twin, and her twin sister, Gabrielle Gorman, has also launched a successful career in a creative field as an activist and filmmaker. Among her projects is a film called “Dear America” which tackles police brutality. She described hitting a roadblock in the project and her twin sister, Amanda Gorman, helping her over the hump during an interview with SPECIWOMAN.
The most challenging project I’ve worked on was a film I did called ‘Dear America.’ I had originally planned for the film to cover police brutality and racism, but while I was editing it I hit a major block. It took me months to realize that that was because I had been neglecting my own story, my experience with feeling inadequate and unworthy due to the color of my skin. I remember starring blank at my computer screen unsure of what to due when my sister told me that sometimes she gets writer’s block when she’s afraid to say something that she knows she should. And so I turned on the recorder and just started talking. I spoke about trying to lighten my skin, burning my hair, curving my lips inward because they were too full. And it was my ability to make myself vulnerable in that way that I feel made the film so moving for so many people. We are all imprisoned by socially constructed labels. Whether they are due to our race, gender, sexuality, disability, whatever. But at the end of the day, the only label that matters is ‘Beautiful.’ We are all so beautiful.
Gabrielle Gorman further spoke about the women who encouraged her to pursue her passion and the bond between herself and other creative women.
“One of the things I find so beautiful about being a female creator is the feeling of sisterhood,” she said. “I don’t know where I would be without all of the powerful and generous women that recognized my passion and gave me the opportunities that I otherwise would not have received. I also think that being a women makes me feel more inclined to share stories about women or non-male identifying people as we are too often portrayed as one-dimensional.”
4. Gorman’s Mother Was a Single Mom Raising Her 3 Children in a Diverse Los Angeles Neighborhood
Wicks is a single mom who raised her three children alone. Gorman has two siblings, including her twin sister, Gabrielle, according to L.A. Taco. In an interview with the publication, she said she attended New Roads School, a private school in Santa Monica, while her mother taught in Watts. Her mother’s experiences dealing with “life and death scenarios” involving her students taught the young Gorman about “the paradigm of being an educator in underserved communities,” the article said.
“Seeing her has made me a better student, poet, and person,” Gorman told the publication.
She further described her perspective in an interview with The New York Times, saying she had a unique viewpoint but one that often made her feel isolated.
“I grew up at this incredibly odd intersection in Los Angeles, where it felt like the black ’hood met black elegance met white gentrification met Latin culture met wetlands,” she said. “Traversing between these worlds, either to go to a private school in Malibu, or then come back home to my family’s two-bedroom apartment, gave me an appreciation for different cultures and realities, but also made me feel like an outsider.”
5. Gorman’s Childhood Involved Little TV & Lots of Creativity
Gorman described herself as a “weird” kid in an interview with The New York Times. She said she was an obsessive learner and tried to write her own dictionary as a child. She frequently journaled and tried to read two books literally at the same time.
“The worlds I mentioned, traveled between for school and home — of blackness and whiteness — seemed so foreign to me,” she said. “While other students were on the jungle gym, I was writing in my journal on a park bench, or trying to write my own dictionary. I was obsessed with everything and anything; I wanted to learn everything, to read everything, to do everything. I was constantly on sensory overload. I’d hoard dozens of books in my second-grade cubby, and literally try to read two at a time, side by side.”
Gorman said her mom often kept the TV off, and she and her siblings were encouraged to be creative, using their imaginations and developing their own fun instead of watching it fold out on a screen.
“What contributed to my writing early on is how my mom encouraged it. She kept the TV off because she wanted my siblings and I to be engaged and active. So we made forts, put on plays, musicals, and I wrote like crazy,” she said.