The following post was written by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. It originally appeared on the Library of Congress Blog.
This year’s presidential inauguration ceremony had so many connections to the Library, but I would like to highlight one in particular: the recitation of the Inaugural Poem, “The Hill We Climb,” by Amanda Gorman.
In 2017, I met Amanda when she read one of her poems at a Library event. Our Poetry Office staff had suggested Amanda read a poem to kick things off that night. She was the first National Youth Poet Laureate, a program run by Urban Word NYC as an extension of their city and regional poets laureate. Even then, she was a sensation.
The night of the reading, I saw first-hand her power, passion and intensity as she recited her poem, “In This Place (An American Lyric).” And I wasn’t the only one — Dr. Jill Biden saw it too. It led her to ask Amanda to serve as the youngest-ever Inaugural Poet.
I would like to congratulate Amanda on another amazing performance and say how delighted I am that her appearance on the Coolidge Auditorium stage in 2017 led her to the U.S. Capitol yesterday.
Let me also take this opportunity to say more about Joy Harjo, the Library’s current U.S. Poet Laureate. Joy occupies a position established in 1937 that has featured some of our nation’s greatest poets, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky and Tracy K. Smith. Joy is the first Native American to hold the position.
Her signature project is “Living Nations, Living Words,” and I invite you to explore its interactive map and collection of recordings featuring 47 contemporary Native poets from across the country. I’m sure you’ll be as inspired as I am by the voices it celebrates.
We are lucky to live in a moment in which the country contains so many poets laureate, a testament to the power of the Library’s laureate position and the many poets who have held it. This week, Amanda showed us the power of poetry and reminded us of what such positions as the National Youth Poet Laureate can offer the country. Kudos to her. I’m happy she stands alongside her poetry elders in promoting the art to all Americans.