Americans who didn’t know about Amanda Gorman and her work learned quickly during President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday. The internet was instantly set ablaze with praise as the poet and activist read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the event in Washington, D.C.
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) January 20, 2021
Here’s what you need to know.
The 22-year-old was born and raised in Los Angeles and lives in West L.A. now. She has a twin sister, Gabrielle, whom she’s collaborated with. They were raised by their mother, Joan Wicks, a teacher. Gorman had a speech impediment, like Biden. She went to Harvard University, where she majored in sociology and graduated cum laude in 2020.
Gorman’s interest in poetry was sparked in third grade. The teacher read the class “Dandelion Wine,” by Ray Bradbury. She was named youth poet laureate of Los Angeles at age 16 and then the first National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States at 19.
She’s the youngest inaugural poet ever; the piece she wrote for the occasion is “The Hill We Climb.” Gorman told NPR that she reviewed the works of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, President Abraham Lincoln, civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr., former British prime minister Winston Churchill, and others to prepare.
According to the Associated Press, she had composed 3.5 minutes of her poem when the U.S. Capitol was attacked. “That day gave me a second wave of energy to finish the poem,” she explained, adding that the poem would “touch” on the events of January 6.
She told CBS This Morning, “It’s amazing . . . Especially at my age. No one really gets to say, ‘At 22, I am the inaugural poet.'”
She’s one of only six inaugural poets in U.S. history, joining Richard Blanco (Barack Obama, 2013), Elizabeth Alexander (Obama, 2009), Miller Williams (Bill Clinton, 1997), Maya Angelou (Clinton, 1993), and Robert Frost (John Kennedy, 1961).
Her inauguration poem included two references from the musical Hamilton.
Gorman’s first children’s book, Change Sings, will be published by Penguin Random House in the fall. It’s illustrated by Loren Long, who did former president Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters.