The 22-year-old will recite The Hill We Climb at Joe Biden’s swearing-in on Wednesday, following in the footsteps of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou
Amanda Gorman is set to become the sixth poet to perform at a presidential inauguration. At just 22, following in the footsteps of names including Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, she will also be the youngest.
Gorman, who was born and raised in Los Angeles and studied sociology at Harvard, became America’s first-ever national youth poet laureate in 2017. According to US reports, it was president-elect Joe Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, who recommended her as his inaugural poet. Gorman will be performing on Wednesday alongside Lady Gaga, who will be singing the American national anthem, and Jennifer Lopez.
Gorman’s poem, The Hill We Climb, will touch on, although not reference directly, last week’s riots in the US Capitol. She shared a short extract with the New York Times: “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 has written.
“I wasn’t trying to write something in which those events were painted as an irregularity or different from an America that I know,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “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.”
The theme of Biden’s inauguration is America United, and Gorman told the Associated Press that while she hadn’t been told what to write by organisers, she’d been encouraged to emphasise unity as opposed to “denigrating anyone” or declaring “ding, dong, the witch is dead” over the departure of Donald Trump.
Gorman might be the youngest writer to grace a presidential inauguration, but she is not a stranger to grand ceremonies. In 2017, she read her poem In This Place (An American Lyric) at the inauguration of the 22nd US poet laureate, Tracy K Smith. The poem condemns the events in Charlottesville (“tiki torches string a ring of flame / tight round the wrist of night”), going on to speak of the importance of poetry as a form of resistance. “Tyrants fear the poet. / Now that we know it / we can’t blow it. / We owe it / to show it / not slow it / although it / hurts to sew it / when the world / skirts below it.” She has also performed for luminaries including Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The poet told the LA Times that she has struggled with since she was a child with a speech impediment that makes it hard for her to say certain sounds correctly. “I don’t look at my disability as a weakness,” she said. “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.”
With a children’s book out later this year, Change Sings, illustrated by Loren Long and depicting a young girl on a musical journey to show that we all have the power to make changes in the world, Gorman has even bigger plans for her future. She told the New York Times in 2017 that she was planning to run for president in 2036, and this remains the plan. “I’m going to tell Biden that I’ll be back,” she told the AP.