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When President-elect Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States, Amanda Gorman joined the ranks of such massive figures as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, stepping up to the podium as the president's inaugural poet. She was the youngest poet in the country's known history, presenting at a time unlike any her predecessors have faced.
Gorman, 22, was asked to write a poem to symbolize all that Biden stands for—a poem about unity. But in the wake of four years under President Donald Trump, a time no one would describe as united, Gorman told The New York Times, "I'm not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years." Her poem, titled "The Hill We Climb," was universally praised, earning her enormous presales of her three upcoming books; nabbing her a modeling contract with IMG; and earning her a reading spot during the Super Bowl LV.
Two years after her monumental entry into the spotlight, Gorman is still using poetry to raise awareness of America's unspoken history as well as the nation's current hopes and struggles. Here's who the poet is and why she was born for such a moment as this.
Gorman was named the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at 16.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Gorman discovered her talent for poetry when she was still very young. A third-grade teacher captured her attention with Ray Bradbury's poem "Dandelion Wine," according to the Los Angeles Times, and started her on a path to spend nearly every waking moment journaling.
Quickly gaining attention with her work about race, feminism, and the struggle for civil rights, she was named the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles in 2014, and published her first poetry collection, "The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough," in 2015. Then, while studying sociology at Harvard University, she was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate in the United States.
Dr. Jill Biden discovered her work.
The new First Lady was the one who stumbled upon Gorman's work only days before the inauguration. She was watching a reading Gorman gave at the Library of Congress, according to the Times, when she asked if Gorman might read something for the inauguration. Over a Zoom call, she was told she'd been picked to present, and she'd need to be on a flight to Washington, D.C., soon.
“They did not want to put up guardrails for me at all,” Gorman told the Times. “The theme for the inauguration in its entirety is ‘America United,’ so when I heard that was their vision, that made it very easy for me to say, great, that’s also what I wanted to write about in my poem, about America united, about a new chapter in our country.”
She struggled to finish "The Hill We Climb" until the night of the Capitol insurrection.
While writing her poem, she listened to music that put her "in a historic and epic mind-set," she told the Los Angeles Times, including the soundtracks from Netflix series The Crown, as well as the soundtrack from Hamilton. But in the weeks coming up to Wednesday, January 20, Gorman hit a roadblock. The pressure to write something so inspiring it would transform a nation, à la Abraham Lincoln's or Martin Luther King Jr.'s addresses, was Herculean. It wasn't until she watched a pro-Trump mob descend on the Capitol earlier this month that she was able to finish "The Hill We Climb."
After watching Confederate flags stormed through the seat of American government, she added the lines, "We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it / Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy / And this effort very nearly succeeded / But while democracy can be periodically delayed / It can never be permanently defeated."
Gorman has opened up about having a speech impediment.
Like the 46th president, Gorman has a speech impediment she has worked to overcome. "The writing process is its own excruciating form, but as someone with a speech impediment, speaking in front of millions of people presents its own type of terror," Gorman told the Times as she prepared for the inauguration.
She described to NPR that, as a child, she struggled to pronounce certain letters of the alphabet, such as the letter R, and therefore had to constantly "self-edit and self-police."
When she first started performing, she worried over which words to include in her poems, fearing that she might not be able to say them correctly.
"I would be in the bathroom scribbling five minutes before trying to figure out if I could say 'Earth' or if I can say 'girl' or if I can say 'poetry,'" she told NPR. "And you know, doing the best with the poem I could."
She draws courage from the poets who have come before her—especially Angelou, who was mute as a child. "I think there is a real history of orators who have had to struggle, a type of imposed voicelessness, you know, having that stage at inauguration," Gorman says. "So it's really special for me."
She intends to run for president.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Gorman plans to run for president in 2036, the first election cycle when she'll be old enough to campaign. Watching Vice President Kamala Harris's historic win solidified her plans.
"It makes it more imaginable," she told the Times of Harris's election. "Once little girls can see it, little girls can be it. Because they can be anything that they want, but that representation to make the dream exist in the first place is huge—even for me."
Her Super Bowl poem honored pandemic heroes.
During the Super Bowl, Gorman's reading of her poem "Chorus of the Captains" was played before the on-field introduction of three Americans who received honorary captain titles for their service during the pandemic. Their names are Trimaine Davis, a teacher in Los Angeles; Suzie Dorner, a nurse manager in Florida; and James Martin, a Marine veteran in Pittsburgh who devotes his time to the Wounded Warrior Project and aiding local youth.
The poem honored the three honorary captions' "courage and compassion" as well as their outstanding commitment to service during the pandemic. Ahead of her reading, the poet wrote, "Poetry at the Super Bowl is a feat for art & our country, because it means we’re thinking imaginatively about human connection even when we feel siloed. I’ll honor 3 heroes who exemplify the best of this effort. Here’s to them, to poetry, & to a #SuperBowl like no other."
She co-chaired the 2021 Met Gala in a gown inspired by an American monument.
The poet-activist made her Met Gala debut as a co-chair at the September event. For the occasion, Gorman chose a strapless custom Vera Wang gown inspired by the Statue of Liberty. The royal blue gown featured a mini hem, a flowing draped detailing, and more than 3,000 individually hand-stitched crystals, with the star accessorizing the look with a book-shaped Edie Parker clutch decorated with the text found at the statue's base, "Give us your tired."
She wrote a brief, powerful poem in response to the Uvalde shooting.
Gorman spoke out amid the back-to-back Buffalo and Uvalde shootings last May. On the day of the Texas shooting, the poet shared lines from a previously published poem on social media, along with a call to action which raised over $1 million for the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, per NPR.
Later that week she published a new poem called "Hymn For The Hurting," in memory of the victims. In an NPR interview, she said that she remained hopeful amid the collective anger and despair felt following the incidents.
"I think in moments like this, I am hopeful, but I'm actually more stubborn than hopeful, meaning that I'm bringing my obstinance, my strong will, my beating heart," she said. "I know there are forces in this world which would revel and celebrate and throw a party for my powerlessness, and they win unless I continue to show up every day and do what I know to be right."
She has released two bestselling poetry books.
Gorman's first two poetry books were published last year by Penguin Random House, one of which was a full-length poetry collection featuring her inauguration poem, titled Call Us What We Carry: Poems. The book, which was formerly titled The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, grappled with current events including climate change, the pandemic's exacerbation of existing inequalities, and the racial reckonings of summer 2020.
She also released a children's book called Change Sings: A Children's Anthem, a "lyrical picture book" about a young girl on a "musical journey" with her friends. The book was illustrated by Loren Long, who also illustrated former President Barack Obama's "Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters."
Fans of Gorman's inauguration poem can also pick up a special collector's edition, which released in March 2021.
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