Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in US history, calls for unity on Inauguration Day

Charles Trepany and Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY
·6 min read

Amanda Gorman is only 22, but she has already made history.

Wednesday, Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, performing an original poem titled "The Hill We Climb" at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. She continued a tradition that has included such celebrated poets as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

In the roughly five-minute reading of her poem, Gorman called for healing and unity, alluding to the pro-Trump rally two weeks ago that turned into a violent storming of the U.S. Capitol.

"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," she read.

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Poet Amanda Gorman arrives at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington.
Poet Amanda Gorman arrives at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington.

She celebrated the beauty of the country's diversity and called on Americans to rise to the occasion and leave their country better than they found it.

"We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother / Can dream of becoming president, only to be reciting for one," she said.

Gorman concluded: "For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it."

Gorman told The Associated Press she was not given specific instructions on what to write for Wednesday's inauguration, but she was encouraged to emphasize unity and hope over “denigrating anyone” or declaring “ding, dong, the witch is dead” over the departure of President Donald Trump.

Gorman said she was given five minutes to read. Prior to what she called “the Confederate insurrection” on Jan. 6, she had written only about three and a half minutes' worth, she told AP.

“That day gave me a second wave of energy to finish the poem,” Gorman said, adding that she would not refer directly to Jan. 6 but would “touch” upon it. She said the Capitol mob did not upend the poem she had been working on because it didn’t surprise her.

“The poem isn’t blind,” she said. “It isn’t turning your back to the evidence of discord and division.”

Just hours after Gorman's electric reading, Penguin Young Readers announced it would publish a special hardcover edition of the poem to be released this spring.

Wednesday, Gorman wore a red satin headband and red bedazzled mask with a yellow Prada coat. She has worked with Prada: In 2019, she traveled to Slovenia as a correspondent to learn more about recycled materials for the fashion company's sustainability efforts

Gayle King reported for CBS News that her earrings were a gift from Oprah Winfrey and the caged bird ring she wore was a tribute to Angelou.

Gorman told AP she was contacted by the Biden inaugural committee in late December and said incoming first lady Jill Biden recommended her.

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The daughter of a Los Angeles school teacher, Gorman has written pieces for events spanning a July 4 celebration featuring the Boston Pops Orchestra to the inauguration of school President Lawrence Bacow at Harvard University, her alma mater (where she majored in sociology).

Here's what else you should know about the star poet:

She's got plenty of famous fans

The Bidens aren't the only high-profile people who've admired Gorman's work.

According to her website, Gorman's poetry earned her an invitation to the Obama White House. She's performed for "Hamilton" mastermind and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and activist Malala Yousafzai, among others.

In August 2020, Gorman read one of her poems on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," moving Clarkson to tears.

She's the first National Youth Poet Laureate

In 2014, Gorman was named the first Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and three years later she became the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. "The way I describe it is kind of like being mayor and then senator and then president of youth poetry, basically," she said on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" of her accomplishments.

On Wednesday, Amanda Gorman will become the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, performing an original poem at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
On Wednesday, Amanda Gorman will become the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, performing an original poem at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

She overcame a speech impediment

Though Gorman has made a name for herself with her words, the celebrated poet says speaking hasn't always been easy. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gorman opened up about struggling with a speech impediment.

"For me, there was this other echelon of pressure, which is: Can I say that which needs to be said?" Gorman said. Though her impediment has been a challenge, she said she doesn't see it as a weakness.

“It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be," she continued. "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 wrote a children's book and poetry collection

If Gorman’s Inauguration Day reading of “The Hill We Climb” has you craving more, there's good news: A debut poetry collection aimed at readers age 14 and up, which shares a name with the poem, is coming September 21.

“I’m so thrilled to be working with Viking on my first collection of poetry!” Gorman said in a press release from Viking Books for Young Readers. “My wish is for THE HILL WE CLIMB to inspire and uplift readers with its verse at a time when we could all use more poetry in our lives, no matter our age.”

Gorman also has a children's book coming out this year called "Change Sings."

"I wrote 'Change Sings' as a children’s anthem to remind young readers that they have the power to shape the world," Gorman wrote on Instagram, where she shared the book's cover, designed by Loren Long. Long illustrated Barack Obama's 2010 children's book, "Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters."

"I felt strongly that the book should come out in 2021, when children would be facing the results of the 2020 election, and whatever those would be, I wanted them to know they were the leaders of the future," she said. "I had no idea that around the same time, I myself would be named the youngest inaugural poet at that time! So I am too learning and living the lesson of 'Change Sings' "

Gorman hosted a PBS special for kids about racism in October.

Contributing: Hillel Italie, Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amanda Gorman: Poet calls for unity in Biden inauguration poem