Welcome to the Women for Women International Book Club! This month, we’re reading Call Us What We Carry, a powerful, thought-provoking collection of poems by presidential inaugural poet, National Youth Poet Laureate, and bestselling author, Amanda Gorman.
Call Us What We Carry, Gorman’s first published collection, explores heavy, complex subject matter that spans history through gorgeous, lyrical poetry — a testament to the writer’s extraordinary talent.
Now an iconic image, the young woman in the yellow coat at last year’s inaugural ceremony inspired people worldwide with her commanding performance of “The Hill We Climb.” Each of the poems in this volume — in which that renowned poem appears — is worthy of the same attention and rumination.
Don’t forget to join the #WFWIBookClub Facebook Group … This group is a place where passionate readers, like you, can dive deeper and connect with each other while exploring women’s power. We hope you’ll join the discussion online!
Why this book is important …
Amanda Gorman is a poet and activist—an extraordinary young woman who uses words, both in print and through captivating performance poetry, to provoke thought, emotion, discussion, and change. Incredibly talented and insightful, Gorman takes on weighty topics in Call Us What We Carry, such as gender equality, oppression, historical epidemics, religion, immigration, bigotry, racism, climate change, and human bonds.
At a time when Americans were still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and January 6th insurrection ... and desperately in need of inspiration and hope — Gorman delivered just that in a moving and unforgettable performance at the 2021 inaugural celebration. As you’ll see in Call Us What We Carry, which includes the inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb,” the poet fearlessly examines the dark and ugly in the world while inspiring hope at the same time, encouraging us to face and overcome life’s challenges and tragedies together with compassion, grace, and love.
Gorman’s inaugural celebration performance impressed and inspired countless people around the globe, but it also put her—a self-described “skinny Black girl, descended by slaves, raised by a single mother”—front and center, on the same day America would inaugurate Kamala Harris, its first female and first person of color as vice president—making both Harris and Gorman instant role models for our youth, for women, and for people of color.
Amanda Gorman believes using your voice is a political choice, and she stresses the importance of speaking out against injustice and hate, despite one’s fears. At Women for Women International, we also believe in the incredible power of women using their voices for positive change, as we help survivors of conflict transform their lives and pass on the knowledge they gain to others—with the ultimate goal of creating a world in which every woman’s voice, role, and contribution are visible and valued.
We hope you’ll join us in reading Call Us What We Carry and share your thoughts with others online.
Check out the discussion questions below and connect with readers on Instagram to share your reactions, thoughts and questions by using the hashtag #WFWIBookClub, and tagging us with @womenforwomen. We want to hear what you think—share your take on the book with us!
Note: The following discussion questions correspond to sections of Call Us What We Carry.
- A ship’s manifest is a record of what is on the ship. In “Ship’s Manifest,” the speaker says, “To be accountable we must render an account.” Who is the “we” to whom the speaker refers, and what does the speaker list in the manifest? What is the significance of this “capsule” and why must it be preserved?
- “At First” is formatted as a series of text messages that documents the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic. Discuss how the form of the poem supports the messages throughout, especially as related to loss, unanswered questions, and survival. How might the concluding stanza, which includes the line “By letting love reclaim our tongues,” provide hope and remind the reader of their responsibility to others?
What a Piece of Wreck Is Man
- “Call Us” depicts the ways Black people’s bodies have been denigrated and dehumanized. Yet, the speaker entreats the reader to remember all the ways that Black people have been integral. What is the responsibility that the speaker puts on the reader when they say, “We are not me— / we are we”? Why must we, then, “call us / what we carry?” What is the importance of acknowledging the harm done to Black people? What happens if we do not?
- Consider “Every Day We Are Learning” and “Cordage, or Atonement.” What does this pair of poems suggest about persistence, resilience, and humanity? What might the following lines from “Cordage, or Atonement” suggest about the cost of change: “Often we cannot change / without someone in us dying”?
- In the poem “Pre-Memory,” the speaker explains: “Pre-memory defines who we are as a people. Will we / forget, erase, censor, distort the experience as we live it, so / that it cannot be fully remembered? Or will we ask, carry, / keep, share, listen, truth-tell, so it need not be fully relived?” What might happen if we choose to tell our stories without a full reckoning with or accounting of our pasts?
- “Vale of the Shadow of Death . . .” challenges readers to think about the many ways history is changed, omitted, or retold to privilege certain versions of the past. Do you agree with the speaker’s claim that “ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance / is to miss: to block ourselves / from seeing sky”?
Fury & Faith
- Notice the different contrasts throughout this section. What is the impact of the words written within the American flag on p. 155? What are the conflicts—external and internal—that we must contend with if we hope to make significant changes in our lives and world? What emotions do the poems in this section elicit? In the poem “Fury & Faith,” to whom does the “you” and “we” refer? How does Gorman summon the need for collective liberation, hope, and persistence, and for what purpose?
- Who is responsible for the future? What agency and urgency do we need to summon, especially according to “Augury or the Birds”? What are the qualities that will enable us to keep practicing for the future we want to create, especially those elicited by “Practice Makes People”?
The questions above are selected from those included in “An Educator Guide to Call Us What We Carry,” from the National Education Association’s website. You can find a full list of discussion questions here.