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On Wednesday, Amanda Gorman became the sixth poet to perform at a presidential inauguration. At 22, she also made history as the youngest.
Following in the footsteps of greats like Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Alexander, Gorman debuted an original piece titled "The Hill We Climb" at the ceremony for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in Washington, D.C.
Her poem touched on themes like unity and the importance of joy. “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. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal,” she told the New York Times before the big day. “It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.”
Gorman's powerful delivery of "The Hill We Climb," which she wrote in the wake of the U.S. Capitol attack, was praised by politicians from both sides of the aisle. Stacey Abrams called Gorman’s message, "an inspiration to us all."
Here's everything you need to know about Gorman and her history-making moment, which you can watch in full below.
FULL AMANDA GORMAN POEM:
“We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one ... There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
The 22-year-old is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history: https://t.co/SIPU57hEKH pic.twitter.com/X4JQZO8rlY
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 20, 2021
She has been a poet for as long as she can remember.
According to a Los Angeles Times profile, Gorman has been a fan of the written and spoken word since the third grade, when a teacher read Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” to her class. She is from Los Angeles, where her mother is a middle school teacher, and reportedly grew up journaling while other kids hung out at the playground.
Gorman, who has a speech impediment, doesn't look at her "disability as a weakness,” she told the Los Angeles Times. Rather, she said, it's "made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be," adding that "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.”
At 16, she became the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles.
Gorman also became a youth delegate for the United Nations at 16. In 2015, she published her first poetry collection, “The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough.”
Three years later, while attending Harvard, Gorman was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate in the U.S. “What’s really funny about being National Youth Poet Laureate is that not everyone even knows it exists,” she told The New York Times. “I feel in many ways like a unicorn.”
Gorman finished her inaugural poem the night of the Capitol insurrection.
Biden’s inaugural committee reportedly contacted her late last month after Dr. Jill Biden discovered her work. "It was really daunting," Gorman said in an interview with NPR, "to begin the poem because you don't even really know the entry point in which to step into the murk."
While writing, Gorman took into account the issues of today, from the COVID-19 pandemic to partisan division to racial inequality. But everything changed after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building.
Gorman told The New York Times the event shifted her perspective. “There is space for grief and horror and hope and unity," she said, "and I also hope that there is a breath for joy in the poem, because I do think we have a lot to celebrate at this inauguration.”
She asked previous inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander for advice.
Gorman reportedly prepared to read her poem by researching famous orators who have spoken on divided nations, including Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Ahead of inauguration day, Gorman also reached out to Elizabeth Alexander, who composed and recited a poem for Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009.
"She just basically told me, ‘The poem is already written, it’s already done. Now, it’s just up to you to bring it to life as best as you can,’” Gorman told The New York Times.
Celebrities and politicians praised Gorman's reading.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn't broken
but simply unfinished
There is always light
if only we're brave enough to see it
if only we're brave enough to be it.
— Amanda Gorman
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) January 20, 2021
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) January 20, 2021
Also Amanda Gorman wins. And Maya Angelou smiles on her surely.
— Brittney Cooper (@ProfessorCrunk) January 20, 2021
— Jaime Harrison (@harrisonjaime) January 20, 2021
Watch a video of Gorman reciting her inaugural poem and read an excerpt.
Here's the full poem from Amanda Gorman, who is the youngest poet to ever read at an inauguration.
"Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken, but simply unfinished." pic.twitter.com/0Hxeuqnt3d
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) January 20, 2021
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 a book coming out with the same title as her inaugural poem.
You can pre-order a copy of The Hill We Climb here. The "lyrical picture book" of poetry will include Gorman's inaugural poem, in addition to her other work.
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