Amanda Gorman first stole our hearts in 2021, when she recited her poem “The Hill We Climb”at President Biden’s inauguration.The piece is a lyrical celebration of humanity’s capacity for resilience, as well as an artful acknowledgment of our collective trauma. The words, in Gorman’s voice, invoked a sense of hopefulness that this pandemic-weary nation didn’t even know it needed.
Although she was already America’s first youth poet laureate, that January day Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet in American history. Arguably, she is also one of the most popular: From poetry to picture books, Gorman’s work consistently tops bestseller lists, lingering there for weeks at a time.
This fall, 25-year-old Gorman will release her new picture book, Something, Someday (Viking, Sept. 26), a beautifully written exhortation to children to follow their hearts and make the world a better place. Illustrated by Caldecott medalist Christian Robinson, the book’s evocative text, vibrant pictures, and empowering message earned Gorman her latest Kirkus star.
The title reaches young readers at a critical time in Gorman’s creative career: Over the past few months, a Florida school has banned “The Hill We Climb”—after mistakenly attributing the piece to Oprah Winfrey—for allegedly including “hate messages.” Although the publishing timelines mean that Gorman must have written Something, Someday long before the Florida controversy erupted, the story’s insistence on prioritizing the needs of children over adults feels both necessary and prescient.
Kirkus recently asked Gorman to answer some of our questions over email; our exchange has been edited for length and clarity.
There were so many gorgeous lines in this book, many of which could’ve served as the title. How did you settle on Something, Someday? Did you have other titles in mind?
Maybe it’s my poetic background, but I’ve always loved a refrain. As I wrote the book, the word something popped up a lot to represent a dream that is unnamed, and someday for the hope that it will happen at some point in time. In terms of other title ideas, I think it was “Fury & Faith,” which was the title of an adult poem I wrote years ago that eventually became the kids’ book.
I love that this book addresses the reader using a second-person point of view. Why did you choose this point of view?
I write most of my poetry in the first-person plural (we, us, etc.) because a lot of my work is a form of literary activism, and it’s important to remember that we can only successfully create a sea change by working together toward a common goal. It’s always my hope, in all of my writing, to unify the collective us toward meaningful progress.
With this book, it was fun to try out a different narrative voice. I also feel that the second-person point of view mimics the very patterns that the book calls out—when children are spoken at as opposed to spoken with. You in a specific tone can sound patronizing and admonishing, but you spoken with encouragement and support can be part of the most powerful three-word sentence: I love you.
The book begins with the lines, “You are told / That this is not a problem. / But you are sure / There’s something wrong.” Why did you begin the book this way?
When I was growing up, I always bristled at the idea that “you’re a kid, we’re adults, you’re small, we’re big, you’re wrong, we’re right” (a line that appears in the 1996 Matilda film, which is perhaps why I loved it so much!). I wanted to flip that dogma on its head in this book. So, as opposed to just the world telling the child something, it’s the child telling their truth to the world: Namely, that there is light and love to be found everywhere. My hope was that by the end of the book, the young reader would see themselves as a truth teller of their something, someday.
The illustrations in this book are stunning—they almost feel like their own story. What was it like to work with award-winning illustrator Christian Robinson?
Christian is definitely an artistic genius, and I feel so grateful to have him as the visual voice of this book. When I was writing the text, he was the top illustrator at the forefront of my mind. In that way, even before he signed on, he influenced the language because I hoped to have an artist of his caliber, someone who could bring the words to life, which inspired me to depart from my usual style—rhyming verse—to something a bit more conversational. I knew Christian would add that magic flawlessly.
In addition to poetry collections and picture books, you’ve written work ranging from Nike’s 2020 Black History Month campaign manifesto to personal essays for the New York Times. What inspires you to write across genres? What genre would you like to explore next?
I love poetry, but at my core I am a writer, which means I’m fascinated with all language crafts beyond the verse. I also have a sociology background, and so essays on the world really hit the spot for me! When I was in middle school, I dreamed of being a novelist, because I’d fallen in love with Toni Morrison. It would be a miracle if one day I could publish a long-form work like that, since the unit of length I’m typically working on is that of a poem.
What kind of reader do you hope will discover this book?
I hope any type of reader connects with this book—children, family, guardians, educators; the list goes on. I think the stories that bridge age, without demeaning the old or the young, are the most powerful. Maybe they’ll find the book at their local library, or on an independent bookseller’s bookshelf, or at their school. Maybe they’ll read it at a park, in class, or comfy and cozy from their couch. In any case, I wish for them to find a small bit of peace, home, and hope in the journey.
Mathangi Subramanian’s latest novel, A People’s History of Heaven, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.