If you tuned into the inauguration celebrations on January 20, amid the swearing-in of the new president and vice-president, performances by Lady Gaga, J. Lo, John Legend, Yo Yo Ma, other famous artists and an obscene amount of fireworks towards the end of the evening, you might have been particularly struck by the new National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman.
At 22, Gorman is the youngest person ever to be awarded the honor of the inaugural poet laureate. It’s easy to see why—my family and I sat stunned after her performance of her poem, The Hill We Climb, our mouths practically gaping. Gorman was named the poet laureate in 2017 at the age of only 19 while studying as a sophomore at Harvard University. The Biden Administration requested her to speak at the inauguration late this December. Yet Gorman only finished “The Hill We Climb” two weeks ago on January 6, the day of the insurrection at the Capitol. The event is echoed in her writing—with lines reading “we’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation/rather than share it/would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.”
However, the message that Amanda Goran sent out to the United States and, as she said, the world, wasn’t one of malice or purely criticism. It was one of hope, but also a kind of homecoming, a re-emergence of what our nation’s purpose is and where the heart of our country lies. Similar to most of the inauguration festivities, there was also an undertone of urgency. Gorman urged and inspired us—in an unbelievably eloquent and beautiful manner—to “lay down our arms so we can reach out to each other…[to] merge mercy with might/and might with right/[so]that love becomes our legacy.”
The final words recited from The Hill We Climb were “the new dawn blooms as we free it/for there is always light/if only we’re brave enough to see it/if only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Needless to say, the poem and her delivery of it was stunning. Thrilled at discovering this fantastic young woman, I rushed to look up Amanda Gorman’s Instagram. It seemed that other peers had discovered her too—nearly twenty people I follow also were now following her. And as of 10:16 p.m. MST the same day, 36 people I follow also now follow Amanda Gorman. If Instagram has any credibility, I’d say she clearly made an impression.
While she may be relatively young, Gorman has laid no time to waste. She’s published a collection of poetry entitled The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough and leads the organizations One Pen One Page and She the People. She’s published another collection of poetry as well, titled The Hill We Climb like her now-famous poem, in addition to writing the children’s book Change Sings. Gorman also grew up struggling with a speech impediment, a condition which only makes her path to becoming a performing poet on the national stage all the more impressive. She frequently writes about racial and societal inequality and injustice, womanhood and the African Diaspora, amongst other topics. Her prose is rich, healing, intimate and potent. On the website of She The People, Amanda Gorman is described as “a true freedom fighter, a girl dedicated to the voice of many and prepped with the weapon and word of one.”
Gorman is a woman who uses her art and her power to create change and to open people’s lenses of the world. She herself spoke that “poetry is a weapon…it is an instrument of social change…and poetry is one of the most political arts out there because it demands that you rupture and destabilize the language in which you’re working with.” She described poetry as “the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for,” saying that “now more than ever, the United States needs an inaugural poem.”
As one of the many new Amanda Gorman fans, I look forward to seeing her work as the national poet laureate unfold over these next four years—and look forward to her hopeful candidacy for president in 2036.
To read the full transcript of The Hill We Climb, click here.