Amanda Gorman captured the moment on January 20th, 2021. The youngest inaugural poet ever, she dazzled the gathered crowd at the US Capitol and mesmerized the entire world with her stunning poem, “The Hill We Climb.” It’s a stirring piece of free verse, challenging America to acknowledge its complicated past and to move towards a brighter future of optimistic unity. In just under six minutes at 709 words, Gorman communicated centuries’ worth of hope and darkness, triumph and tragedy. It truly was a spellbinding and historical moment created by the 22-year-old poet, author, and activist.
She was struggling to write the poem after having been selected by Dr. Jill Biden in late December, 2020, to perform at the inauguration. Gorman said it was “probably one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my career.” Then, when the attack on the Capitol occurred on January 6, she wrote nearly all of it in one sitting. Reactions around the world have been overwhelming. Her two books surged to the top of bestseller lists: a collection of original poems for young readers also called The Hill We Climb and a picture book titled Change Sings. And they’re not even set to be published until September!
When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
Gorman is known to Angelenos as being named the city’s first Youth Poet Laurate in 2014, and then the very first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017. She was born in Los Angeles, raised by her schoolteacher mother Joan, along with her two siblings. She says that she began writing and reading at a very young age, leading to a stellar academic career culminating in a cum laude degree in sociology from Harvard.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
On Twitter, she gave a hat-tip to Lin-Manuel Miranda for quoting a couple phrases from his musical Hamilton. He responded by saying, “You were perfect. Perfectly written, perfectly delivered. Every bit of it. Brava! Luminaries from the worlds of politics, newsmedia, the arts, and more congratulated and applauded her. And, after her recitation at the inauguration, she’s already receiving offers to work in higher education.
She said in an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN that she is proud to be in the “Speech Difficulty Club” with President Biden and Maya Angelou (and Cooper himself). She said that writing and recitation became a form of therapy, especially with words containing the letter R. She said that the more she practiced, “the more I was able to teach myself how to pronounce these letters which for so long had been my greatest impediment.”
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
You can read a full transcript of her poem here.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images