During the interview, in which the former first lady posed questions to the country’s first national youth poet laureate, Obama said that she was proud of Gorman for the way in which she delivered her widely praised poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the inauguration ceremony for President Joe Biden on Jan. 20.
Gorman, 22, is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history.
“The power of your words blew me away ― but it was more than that,” Obama said. “It was your presence onstage, the confidence you exuded as a young Black woman helping to turn the page to a more hopeful chapter in American leadership.”
Elsewhere in their conversation, Obama asked Gorman how she was handling the pressures that come with garnering such international acclaim for her inaugural poem.
“I know a thing or two about having that kind of pressure put on you, and it isn’t always easy,” Obama said.
Gorman noted that as Black women, they are both held to higher standards due to 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,” Gorman said. “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.”
Obama and Gorman discussed “impostor syndrome,” in which people doubt themselves despite their own significant achievements.
Gorman noted that as a Black woman ― and as a Black woman who had a speech impediment ― she has often asked herself, “Is the content of what I’m saying good enough?” (Read the entire Time interview here.)
On Thursday, Obama tweeted a photo of herself with Gorman, former President Barack Obama and Gorman’s mother, Joan Wicks. The former first lady noted that she first met Gorman in 2016.
“Over the years, I’ve seen her continue to inspire people with her words,” Obama wrote. “I’m so proud of the young woman she has become.”
Last month, Gorman told Ellen DeGeneres that she had overheard conversations between the Obamas on Inauguration Day in which Michelle Obama repeatedly reminded her husband to maintain social distancing measures.
“[Michelle] kept yelling at Barack, ‘Stop hugging people! Stop getting close to people,’” Gorman recalled. “And then when I was done [delivering the inaugural poem], she kind of pushed him out of the way and gave me just the biggest, warmest Michelle Obama hug.”
At age 16, Gorman was named the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles, where she grew up. In 2017, during her freshman year at Harvard, she became the first national youth poet laureate. She has three forthcoming books, including “Change Sings,” her debut children’s book set to be released in September.