Under the sunshine on the University of Southern California campus on Saturday, poet Amanda Gorman took to the main stage of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
Gorman was one of the most highly anticipated panel speakers at the festival and commanded one of the largest crowds of the day. Festival attendees filled every available seat in the audience twenty minutes before the panel was due to begin, and overflowed into surrounding walkways and grass areas.
Gorman rose to national notoriety after performing an original poem at the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden in January 2021. She told the panel audience that the festival was her first in-person speaking event since the inauguration.
During her panel, Gorman discussed how being a Los Angeles native has a strong influence on her poetry, including her latest volume of work, “Call Us What We Carry.”
She also said the personal significance of performing at the festival, as she attended it throughout her childhood.
“I never imagined being able to come speak at the Los Angeles Times festival,” she said.
In conversation with panel host Natalie Graham, Gorman talked about the themes in “Call Us,” from cultural erasure to the loneliness she experienced while attending her last year of college online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Many of the poems in “Call Us” involve the emotions and experiences brought forth by the pandemic. Still, Gorman said she also strives to evoke a sense of anticipation for the future in her writing.
“Poetry is the language of the people,” she said. “It is an instrument of hope and change.”
The driving force behind “Call Us” and all of her poetry was to create a space where different communities can come together, Gorman said.
“Love is always the principal thing,” she said.
After discussing the inspirations and creative process behind “Call Us,” Gorman read a poem from her new collection.
The reading was met with a wave of applause and emotional reactions from the crowd. One audience member, Melissa Gill, said that such reactions are typical for her when reading Gorman’s work.
Gill took a break from hosting a festival booth for her book subscription business, The Steam Box, in order to hear Gorman’s panel. While not a fervent poetry fan, Gill said she is always taken aback by Gorman’s work and her poetic representation of marginalized communities.
“Just hearing her talk for ten minutes makes me feel inspired and like I can do anything,” Gill said.
To learn more about poet Amanda Gorman, visit her website.