The heartfelt performances of pop stars Lady Gaga and Jennifer López at today’s 59th US presidential inauguration may have been met with much applause—but the performer who really blew everyone away with her grace, her presence, and the power of her very own words was Amanda Gorman.
The 22-year old L.A. native was a sensation at the US Capitol in Washington DC, reciting a poem she wrote herself called “The Hill We Climb.” The poem speaks of finding light after the darkness, of democracy and it’s nature to endure, and of a nation “that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”
While millions were finally made aware of her existence for the first time, Gorman has actually performed her poetry at the Library of Congress and all over the United States before this. She was Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at 16, and America’s first Youth Poet Laureate at 19. The girl’s obviously achieved a lot at a very young age. She just graduated from Harvard in 2020. She is a published author and founder of an initiative that promotes literacy through creative writing. And she is now officially the youngest known inaugural poet.
Although it is not obvious in the way she does her spoken word performances, this daughter of a single parent—an English teacher—had to struggle with a speech impediment growing up. Thank heavens, writing saved her. Since she couldn’t use her voice, she told CBS, she would put her words down on the page. Eventually, however, sometime during her high school years, she started to feel she wanted more—she needed to bring the words to life. “Spoken word became my own type of pathology,” she told CBS.
The invitation to speak at the inaugural came in December. In interviews before and after her moment behind the podium Thursday, Gorman said she had to read through past inaugural poems as she began to write, and get inspiration from the speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. As she was writing about hope and unity, the themes central to “The Hill We Climb,” the riots at the Capitol happened last January 6. “That’s when the poem really came to life,” she told CBS. “That Wednesday for me underscored how much [hope and unity] was needed, to not turn a blind eye to the cracks that need to be filled.”
To hear the lady say it, she is peak Amanda Gorman when she is onstage. “I feel electric,” she told CBS. “I feel like I can breathe fire. Like I’m summoning the energy not only of myself but my ancestors.” She does a great deal of preparation, of course, before stepping out and facing a multitude of people. She revealed to CBS that she has a mantra she recites to herself: “I am the daughter of black writers who are descended from freedom fighters who broke through chains to change the world. They call me.”
Asked by CNN what drew her to poetry, Gorman said, “Poetry really found me. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by stories.” The 22-year old is currently working on a few books. And from the looks of it, she would someday be the subject of one, or many, herself.
According to the CBS anchor Anthony Mason who interviewed her, Gorman’s goal is to run for President in 2036. Well, she already has the public speaking down pat. She’s had practice at the Capitol. She even has Oprah on her side if the ring on her finger at the inauguration is any indication (the media icon sent her a pair of earrings and a ring shaped like a dove, an homage to Maya Angelou who spoke at Bill Clinton’s inaugural). Gorman, in fact, already has a hashtag prepared, said Mason: #CamandaInChief.