Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Welcome to We Hear YA! 

Connecting YA Writers with their Teen Audience.

Today: PLEASE CREATE A THUNDEROUS DRUM ROLL OF A WELCOME FOR... Teen poet, activist, and believer in CHANGE - Amanda Gorman!

@AmandaSCGorman is a 16 year-old writer, activist, United Nations Delegate, Harry Potter fan - AND - the 1st EVER LA Youth Poet Laureate.

Words like - Authentic & Revolutionary - simply skim the surface in describing this fierce, young lady. And We Hear YA! is thrilled to share her insights on what it means to be a teen today...

Hello Amanda!

Q: Congrats on becoming the 1st LA Youth Poet Laureate! When will your first poetry book come out? And what aspects of life most fuel your 'voice'? 

Thanks! My poetry book will be published in 2015, around June, and there will be a large book sale at the next Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate Commencement Performance.

My emotions definitely affect my voice and the subjects I discuss in my poetry. My observances or sensations that I experience can jolt any inspiration—a newspaper, a conversation, a word. All those reactions settle in the back of my mind and when I’m ready I sit down and write about the ones that seem most urgent.

Q: Voice is essential for YA Books - teens must connect with the voice of the narrator. What types of voices do you connect with most?  

I connect most with voices that are authentic. It’s easy these days for authors to follow a cookie-cutter, generic voice in the hope of gaining the same success of other popular writers. However, books hold a lot of power when they follow the true voice of the author and the characters involved. When a voice is authentic and real, when it is unafraid to cut against the grain, when it can leap off the page, that’s when I’m hypnotized by books. I don’t love them because of their similarities. I love them because of the author’s courage to be different, to be bold.

Q: I read on your Twitter feed that you’ve taken part in your school's nonviolent teen protests against police brutality. As a teen, can you share how these recent, violent events have affected your hopes and fears?

Like many people I was deeply affected by the police brutality inflicted within our nation. All in all Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and so many other faceless, voiceless victims exhibit that we need more peace, unity, and tolerance within our communities. The recent violent events did heighten my fears for any man, woman, boy, or girl, walking the streets who may be seen as dangerous because of the color of their skin. However, these tragic occasions of police brutality have just fueled me further to work for peace and justice. I am now more dedicated than ever to try to change communities, and I’m glad that others feel the same way. In this time of darkness, that brings me hope.

I read on your Instagram"We are all spangled with a kaleidoscope of colors, seen and unseen. When we learn to love each other, we loose our cool-toned shadows and shine bright as watercolor." - Amanda G. ***LOVE THIS... 

Q: Publishers have a huge push right now for diverse books; to help represent the kaleidoscope of colors of today's youth. What does a 'diverse book' mean to you?

Like I said before, to me a ‘diverse book’ is one that is courageous enough to have authentic aspects that challenge the status quo. When I read a book and I’m hit with unexpected characters, dialogues, and plots, my mind expands to all the possibilities that books hold.  It’s been said that there are only 7 basic plots that books follow.  Having said that, to me, a diverse book is one that makes me think: “Hey, there may be only 7 basic plots, but one of those plots can be told in uncountable ways.” A diverse book exhibits possibilities for storytelling and doesn’t limit them.

Q: As a teen, what topics do you feel need to be brought to light more in terms of diversity and helping us all embrace each other better so we can shine bright as watercolor?

Hmmm… As a teen I believe we could do with more YA books that are bold enough to discuss race, culture, the environment, and social justice. There are many books out these days that follow a similar plot about a dystopian society in the future. It’s not that these books are bad. Heck, I’ve read most of them and enjoyed every page. And these books aren’t all the same; they have different characters and contexts. But I think it would behoove our generation if we not only thought about the future but also examined our present. Let’s have the courage to reflect on what the environment and social justice have on our lives presently. I’d love to read a series about the negative effects on our environment today, or a book that uncovers the violence on our streets today. We can read books about societies decades from now—those books are great and have so much fantastic, literary room to expand on what civilization will be. They often prove to be interesting, fun, and fulfilling. But also, in conjunction with such novels, we should read about stories that let us look at the here and the now before it is too late.

Q: What are some of your favorite books/authors?

I love Maya Angelou—she is definitely one of my idols. I always look to her words when I’m in times of doubt or trouble. I’ve also found a lot of inspiration and personal voice from Toni Morrison. Additionally I’m a committed Harry Potter fan, so J.K. Rowling is dear to my heart. My favorite books, as you can probably tell, are I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and all of the Harry Potter series. I also reread To Kill a Mockingbird more than I can count, and this year I fell in love with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her book Americanah. I love tons of books and authors so it’s always hard to choose which one is the best, but I definitely appreciate these ones for the help they’ve given me while I grow as a writer and a human being.


And as an added treat, please enjoy one of Amanda's poems: 

by 2014 Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman

I sing a neighborhood anthem for the voiceless
The 6th grade students my mother teaches in a Watts public school

I hope for the misunderstood
These students who respond to the essay question: “What stresses you out”
With hushed tales of sisters killed and mothers scraping along the poverty line
With nails jagged from impending defeat

I dream for the broken Dreamers and ask for the unquestioning
These students who are taught to mold to a preset pose
Of poverty and ignorance
Their skin color questioned but they never do the questioning
Because what point is there questioning
A past in the hope that it won’t be repeated

If this is life
This is pattern
This is history
This is future

But listen to the neighborhood anthem
Its obstinate hope
Listen, listen
It will sing blessed truths
It will say, it will sing
To you whose mama left you at 2 months
And has only given you one static filled phone call
With golden ‘how are you’s
Do not doublethink yourself into Mama’s fantasy
But think of the priceless hugs and diamond moments you will stone set
Into your own daughter’s smile

The anthem will sing to you daddy shook the life out of baby sister
Do not forget her laughter, as time tells you to do
Let the memory of the tenderness of her infant flesh
Strengthen you to grasp your identity and dignity
Like your sister’s naval did her umbilical cord
Take that same embryo wire strangling your heart
And plunge it into your larynx
To tell your father: “never again”
The anthem will sing to you who longs for su papa
But they shot and killed him in Mexico
Do not stay silent
Haz arreglos de tu angustia
And the sight of his blood
Y para el día de los muertos no arregles solo flores
But also your blooming love that didn’t die with him

The anthem will sing to you who must listen to the symphony of gunshots
Outside your window
With the chime of your sister’s screams
Do not substitute the notes in the back of your spine
For your neighborhood’s crescendo of poverty and forgotten, shattered hymens
Let your heartbeat be a percussion of hope

The anthem will sing to me
Stained black with a speech impediment
And R’s that would sag from my lips and trip me on this unforgiving path
Amanda drop your Rs
But do not drop your volume
Go on smiling Amanda
Go on writing Amanda
Go on dancing Amanda
Go on trying to be poet laureate Amanda

Speak it
Yell it
Sing it

Sing this neighborhood anthem
Sing that this is home
The telephone lines with shoes hanging like lynched corpses from every corner
This is pattern
Children sprouting from the newly fertile legs of children
This is knowledge
This is life
This is past

But this time our past will not define our future
For we
Crisp yellow
Burning red
Rich brown
Strong black
Spangled white
All questioning youth
Heal our past
Dwell in our present
And will always be
Our future

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