Amanda Gorman became the sixth and youngest poet to perform at a United States presidential inauguration on Wednesday when she recited her poem, The Hill We Climb, at the swearing-in ceremony of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris.
Gorman, 22, performed alongside Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez at the inauguration which was themed ‘America United’.
Gorman joined the likes of Elizabeth Alexander, who read at Barack Obama’s inauguration, Maya Angelou, who read at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton, and Robert Frost, who was the first inaugural poet back in 1961, when he read at John F Kennedy’s inauguration.
“America is messy. It’s still in its early development of all that we can become. And I have to recognise that in the poem. I can’t ignore that or erase it. And so, I crafted an inaugural poem that recognises these scars and these wounds. Hopefully, it will move us toward healing them,” she told the Los Angeles Times ahead of the event.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Amanda Gorman studied sociology at Harvard and became America’s first-ever national youth poet laureate in 2017. Raised by her mother, a middle school teacher, and her two siblings, she was inspired by a speech that Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize laureate in 2013, and became a youth delegate for the United Nations at 16. She has had a speech impediment since childhood.
“It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be. When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds when you have to be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience,” she told Los Angeles Times.
Beginnings as a poet
In 2014, she was named the inaugural Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate, and the following year, she published her first poetry collection, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough. Themes of social injustice and inequality inform her work to a large extent. In 2017, she read her poem In This Place (An American Lyric), which condemned the events in Charlottesville that year, at the inauguration of the 22nd US poet laureate, Tracy K Smith. The poem is said to be a masterclass about racism and oppression. She had also read at Harvard’s 29th president, Lawrence S Bacow’s inauguration, and performed for luminaries including Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Yousafzai and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Plans for the future
In September, Viking Books for Young Readers will release her debut poetry collection, also titled The Hill We Climb, which is aimed at teenage and adult readers. Her debut picture book, Change Sings, with illustrations by Loren Long, which comes out on the same day, depicts a young girl on a musical journey to show that “we all have the power to make changes in the world”.
However, Gorman has even bigger plans for her future. She had told The New York Times in 2017 that she intends to run for president in 2036. “I’m going to tell Biden that I’ll be back,” she recently told the AP.