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Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman at Joe Biden’s Inauguration in Washington D.C., January 20, 2021

Photo: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CC BY 2.0

Why current?

2021-03-10

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was sworn in as America’s next president.  Kamala Harris was sworn in as America’s next vice president.  Normally, thousands of people attend the inauguration of a president.  But in 2021, things were different: a global pandemic was keeping people away, and a recent violent attack on the capitol had troops guarding the perimeters of the area.  Almost 200,000 small American flags were placed where people would have stood or sat.  On that windy January day, their fluttering brought a kind of thoughtful vibrancy to the celebration.

Some high-profile performers contributed their talent to the day’s events, including Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Garth Brooks.  Former presidents, first ladies, and members of Congress were in attendance.  But amidst all the glittering celebrities and big-name personalities, there was one fresh face – that of Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old poet who had been invited to write and read a poem for the occasion.

Gorman is the youngest poet to ever deliver her work at a U.S. presidential inauguration.  Not every inauguration includes an inaugural poet.  But there have been some famous ones, including Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.  Gorman’s poem was called “The Hill We Climb.”  The uplifting, compassionate words combined with  Gorman’s radiant presentation moved not only the people present, but the millions who were watching across the nation and around the world.  She won instant acclaim.

“When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid,

the new dawn blooms as we free it.”

-from “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

More about Amanda Gorman

– Born March 7, 1998, in Los Angeles, California.

– Gorman was born prematurely together with her twin sister, Gabrielle.  The two girls were raised by their mother, an English teacher.

– When she was in kindergarten, it was discovered that she had a problem with her hearing.  This also affected her speech.  She had trouble pronouncing the letter “r,” for example.  In third-grade, her teacher inspired her to write.  Gorman kept a journal throughout much of her childhood and teenage years.  She also loved to write poems.  She gained confidence in her creative voice by reading her work aloud.

– Already at a very young age, Gorman started to combine her love of writing with a keen social conscience.  She was only 16 when she started an organization called “One Pen One Page,” whose aim was to support literacy and social empowerment among young people.

– Around the same time, Gorman was receiving increasing recognition for both her writing and her recitals of her original work, as well as for her involvement in feminist and race issues.  In 2014, she was honored with the title of Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles.

– In 2015, Gorman published her first book of poems entitled, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough

– Throughout her youth, she worked hard to overcome her speech impediment, especially as her interest in performing her poems grew.  She drew wisdom and inspiration from great poets who had had to overcome similar obstacles.  Maya Angelou, one of Gorman’s heroines,  had been mute for a period during her childhood, but she remembers having been able to strengthen her listening skills and her powers of observation while not speaking.

– Gorman attended Harvard University, earning her degree in sociology in 2020.  During her time there, she got to know the musical Hamilton.  She could recite many of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics by heart.  Her passion for the groundbreaking musical helped her develop her speaking voice and her love of performing.

– In 2017, while at Harvard, Gorman became America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate.  She recited her poems at events all over the United States.  Jill Biden, the future First Lady, was in the audience at one such event.  She was so impressed by the young poet that three years later, she put forward the idea of having her read one of her poems at the inauguration.

– Gorman was commissioned to write a poem about unity for the event.  It was a particularly challenging theme to tackle, considering the political strife that had been cutting ever-deeper divisions into America’s social fabric.  When starting to write, Gorman thought about what leaders of the past had said to the country during times of conflict.  She revisited the words of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

– The poem she ended up writing is called, “The Hill We Climb.”  Gorman practiced and practiced prior to the big day.  She wanted to feel confident reading her poem aloud so there would be no stumbles.  Gorman’s presentation of her poem was praised by many, including former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as by Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose words had made such an impression on Gorman in earlier years.

– On inauguration day, Gorman wore a very special ring with a caged bird on it.  This ring, a reference to the famous book by Maya Angelou called, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, was given to her by Oprah Winfrey.

– Gorman has already announced that she will run for president of the United States in 2036.  That will be the first election when she will be over the minimum age of 35 that is required to be president.

Sources: Schillinger, Liesl, The Guardian, “How Amanda Gorman became the voice of a new American era,” https://www.theguardian.com/amanda-gorman, January 22, 2021; Puckett, Lauren, Harpers Bazaar, “Amanda Gorman Was the Youngest Inaugural Poet in U.S. History.  Now She’s At the Super Bowl,” https://www.harpersbazaar.com/amanda-gorman, February 5, 2021; Alter, Alexandra, The New York Times, Amanda Gorman Captures the Moment, in Verse,” https://www.nytimes.com/amanda-gorman.html, March 5, 2021; Barajas, Julia, Los Angeles Times, “How a 22-year-old L.A. native became Biden’s inauguration poet,” https://www.latimes.com/amanda-gorman, January 20, 2021.