Amanda Gorman’s had a big year: starting in January with her wave-making performance at the presidential inauguration, she’s performed at the Super Bowl, been named the face of Estee Lauder and graced the covers of TIME and Vogue, courted controversy with Jhumpa Lahiri and Ishmael Reed, established a $10,000 prize for public high school poets, sent her books The Hill We Climb and Other Poems an Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists (a first printing of 1 million hardcover copies each isn’t bad, either), and her collection Call Us What We Carry was published just this month.
But though 2021 was a creative period for Gorman—nearly every poem in Call Us What We Carry was written in a three- or four-month span this year—it wasn’t easy. In an interview with Clint Smith in The Atlantic, Gorman discussed the difficulty of writing during a pandemic year:
It was a really prolific period of creation for me. Not because it’s easy. I’m sure you’ve heard from so many interviewers and things asking you if writing during COVID was “easier” because you’re maybe at home more, you’re not doing everything, you’re kind of isolated. I was like, “COVID is not a writer’s residency.”
If anything, I found that as I was writing, I had more writer’s block, because I was bringing more grief and concerns and questions and baggage into the writing room. And so I wrote a lot. COVID just made writing feel all the more urgent for me, and all the more necessary. So, yeah, most of these poems are new and born out of the experience of the pandemic, but I think also just the larger racial reckoning that I think we’re having, not only in the United States but around the world—the sociopolitical crisis that we find ourselves in.
It’s a useful lesson to not fault yourself for a lack of productivity—ever, but especially now. Still, though the year has been loaded with tragedy and isolation, Gorman said that that fuels her writing: “I try to approach that as a gift or an opportunity in my writing,” Gorman told Smith. “That is to say, if I am experiencing something such as the pandemic alongside millions of other people, I think that’s a real opening for poetry to do the work that we need to connect us, to push us forward.”