Amanda Gorman tells Michelle Obama she still has imposter syndrome and couldn’t say her own name until three years ago

Inaugural poet says she looked at her stutter as a 'weakness' for a long time

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Thursday 04 February 2021 16:04
Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman’s amazing ceremony reading

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman has opened up about her continuous struggles with imposter syndrome despite her success, and how overcoming her stutter made her into the writer she is.

The 22-year-old discussed her history-making performance and what it has taken her to get to this moment during an interview with Michelle Obama forTime magazine.

During the conversation, the former first lady revealed that she suffers from imposter syndrome “no matter how many speaking engagements” she does. 

The admission prompted Gorman to share that she also has moments where she feels the same way, and how her race and speech impediment have contributed to these moments of insecurity.

“Speaking in public as a Black girl is already daunting enough, just coming onstage with my dark skin and my hair and my race – that in itself is inviting a type of people that have not often been welcomed or celebrated in the public sphere,” she said. “Beyond that, as someone with a speech impediment, that impostor syndrome has always been exacerbated because there’s the concern, Is the content of what I’m saying good enough? And then the additional fear, Is the way I’m saying it good enough?”

Gorman, the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate, then discussed her speech difficulty, which she has in common with Maya Angelou and President Joe Biden, and how it impacted her ability to say certain words, such as her own last name.

“President Biden has talked about having a stutter. Maya Angelou was mute for several years. I could not say certain sounds, like r, so I would be saying things like poetwee or dolla. My last name is Gorman, and I could not say that really until three years ago,” she revealed. “For a long time, I looked at it as a weakness.”

However, according to the poet, she has since learned to view her stutter as a strength, as in overcoming the impediment she became a writer “because I had to find a form in which I could communicate other than through my mouth”.

“And two, when I was brave enough to try to take those words from the page onto the stage, I brought with me this understanding of the complexity of sound, pronunciation, emphasis,” she continued.

During the conversation, Ms Obama also asked the 22-year-old how it feels finding herself thrust into the spotlight as a symbol of hope, with the Becoming author revealing: “I know a thing or two about having that kind of pressure put on you, and it isn’t always easy.”

In response, Gorman acknowledged the difficulties of being a Black woman in the public eye, and how when you’re “first rocketed into a type of visibility, you’re trying to represent your best self without having the best resources”, with the Harvard graduate revealing that there have been times she has done her own hair and makeup in a Starbucks bathroom before walking on stage to perform in front of a crowd of 1,000 people.

Gorman also said the spotlight can be harder being a Black woman because of the “politics of respectability”.

“Despite our best attempts, we are criticised for never being put-together enough; but when we do, we’re too showy. We’re always walking this really tentative line of who we are and what the public sees us as,” she said, adding that she is handling it “day by day”.

As for the advice she has for other young girls, especially Black girls, who earn their way into the spotlight, Gorman told Ms Obama that she is still learning but that she wants others who follow in her footsteps to “think about the big picture”.

She said: “Especially for girls of colour, we’re treated as lightning or gold in the pan – we’re not treated as things that are going to last. You really have to crown yourself with the belief that what I’m about and what I’m here for is way beyond this moment.”

“I’m learning that I am not lightning that strikes once. I am the hurricane that comes every single year, and you can expect to see me again soon,” she added.

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