Amanda Gorman Is Here to Stay: "I Am Not Lightning That Strikes Once"

While Amanda Gorman captivated the nation with her poem "The Hill We Climb" on Inauguration Day, she's still learning how to deal with the pressure that comes from being in the spotlight. In a conversation with Michelle Obama for TIME's February cover, the 22-year-old poet discussed everything from the current renaissance in Black art, to the advice she has for young Black girls that find their way into the spotlight, to being considered a prodigy. "It's easy when you see someone who's young have this type of astronomical life change to think that it's instantaneous," Amanda replied. "In everything that you write, write something that is larger than yourself." You can read some of her best quotes from the cover story below, and find out more about the styling behind her look here.

Getty | Astrid Stawiarz

  • On the current renaissance in Black art: "We're living in an important moment in Black art because we're living in an important moment in Black life . . . 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. 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. I can't imagine anything more exciting than that."
  • On making sense of history in her poetry: "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. Whenever I'm writing, I'm looking at the history of words. The specific history of words in the inaugural poem was: We have seen the ways in which language has been violated and used to dehumanize. How can I reclaim English so we can see it as a source of hope, purification and consciousness?"
Getty | Dave Kotinsky

  • On dealing with impostor syndrome: "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. 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?"
  • On her own speech impediment: "For a long time, I looked at it as a weakness. Now I really look at it as a strength because going through that process, it made me a writer, for one, 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."
Getty | Alex Wong

  • On prepping for the inauguration: "When I first wrote the poem, I was thinking that in the week leading up to the inauguration I would be rehearsing every day. But everything was moving so quickly, I actually didn't get to really sit down with the text until the night before. Most of my preparation was stepping into the emotionality of the poem, getting my body and my psyche ready for that moment. There was a lot of the night-before performing in the mirror."
  • On what unity means to her: "To me, unity without a sense of justice, equality and fairness is just toxic mob mentality. 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."
  • On being a symbol of hope: "When you're first rocketed into a type of visibility, you're trying to represent your best self without having the best resources. For Black women, there's also the politics of respectability — despite our best attempts, we are criticized 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. I'm handling it day by day. I'm learning that 'No' is a complete sentence. And I am reminding myself that this isn't a competition. It's me following the trajectory of the life I was meant to lead."
Getty | Jared Siskin

  • On where she draws her inspiration from: "I love Black poets. I love that as a Black girl, I get to participate in that legacy. So that's Yusef Komunyakaa, Sonia Sanchez, Tracy K. Smith, Phillis Wheatley. And then I look to artists who aren't just poets. While I was writing the Inaugural poem, I was reading a lot of Frederick Douglass, a lot of Winston Churchill, a lot of Abraham Lincoln. I was also listening to the composers who I feel are great storytellers, but they don't use words so I try to fill in that rhetoric myself. A lot of Hans Zimmer, Dario Marianelli, Michael Giacchino."
  • On if she has advice for Black girls: "My question is do they have any advice for me. I'm new to this, so I'm still learning. I would say anyone who finds themselves suddenly visible and suddenly famous, think about the big picture. Especially for girls of color, 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."