If you didn’t know who Amanda Gorman was before Wednesday, you do now.
Gorman, 22, became the 6th and youngest poet to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. Her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” captured viewers across the country, and made her an overnight literary sensation. You can watch a video of Gorman’s recitation below:
Gorman’s performance was one of the rare times in contemporary American society when poetry took center stage across the nation, and Gorman used the opportunity to deliver, as she described in an interview with Anderson Cooper, a “message of hope, unity, and healing.”
Composing the poem on such short notice—she was invited to serve as inaugural poet in late December—and during such challenging times, was no small task. Gorman, as befitting a Harvard alumna, conducted preliminary research by reading the poems of previous inaugural poets (and talking to two of them, Richard Blanco and Elizabeth Alexander) and studying speeches of famous orators such as Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Winston Churchill. As reported by The New York Times, Gorman had completed about half of the poem when the January 6 events unfolded at the U.S. Capitol. The events spurred her to finish the poem late that night, with several news lines alluding to what had transpired.
Amanda’s poem begins with a question: “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” then proceeds to trace the pitfalls and promises of our country, a country that “isn’t broken but simply unfinished,” a country “where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.” (Amanda herself has presidential aspirations.)
The poem, hewing closely to the larger theme of Biden’s inaugural ceremony, “America United,” is an address to all Americans to come together to face and overcome the challenges before us. “If we’re to live up to our own time,” the poem pronounces, “then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.”
At the end of the the poem Amanda returns to her initial question of how to “find light” during difficult times:
When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
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.
(Note: An official transcript of Amanda’s poem is not currently available, so her intended line breaks for “The Hill We Climb” are not yet known.)
You can read a transcript of “The Hill We Climb” through The Guardian website.
In a previous post about Amanda’s selection as inaugural poet I mentioned that she had performed an original poem, “In This Place (An American Lyric),” at U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith‘s 2017 inaugural ceremony. Since then, several news outlets have reported that it was this very performance that led First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to select Gorman as inaugural poet. Dr. Biden “stumbled upon” a video of Amanda’s performance, which ultimately led to a Zoom call between Dr. Biden and Gorman in which the latter was asked to serve as inaugural poet. During the meeting, Dr. Biden complimented the yellow dress Gorman wore at Smith’s inaugural ceremony (see photo at right), which inspired her to wear a yellow dress at President Biden’s inauguration.
Media coverage of the lead-up to Amanda’s performance as inaugural poet, and the aftermath, has been extensive, and the success of her performance can be seen in the astronomical increase in her social media followers. I was amazed to watch Amanda’s Twitter followers skyrocket in the minutes after her performance, going from approximately 12 thousand followers the morning of the inauguration to 1.3 million followers at the time of this post’s publication!
Educators have also been quick to seize on a unique opportunity to introduce poetry in a relatable way to their students. Lesson plans for “The Hill We Climb” are already available through PBS and The New York Times.
While I could discuss the background to Amanda’s inaugural poem, and its reception, for days, I’ve instead selected below a sampling of significant or interesting articles about Amanda, her selection as inaugural poet, and the coverage of her historic reading that From the Catbird Seat readers can explore to learn more about these topics. I also list below other From the Catbird Seat blog posts related to inaugural poets. If you have any questions about Amanda’s inaugural reading, or inaugural poets, please contact us through our Ask a Librarian service. And if you haven’t already seen it, be sure to take a look a Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden’s wonderful tribute to Amanda and our current U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo, which we featured on the blog yesterday.
About Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman and “The Hill We Climb”
Articles and Videos Published before Amanda’s Recitation
- “Amanda Gorman, Inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate” (From the Catbird Seat, July 25, 2017)
- “Meet Amanda Gorman, America’s First Youth Poet Laureate” (The New York Times, Nov. 3, 2017)
- “Amanda Gorman, Youth Poet Laureate, has Speech and Auditory Processing Issues” (Understood.org, July 25, 2018)
- “Poet Amanda Gorman, 22, will read at Biden inaugural” (Associated Press, Jan. 15, 2021)
- “How a 22-year-old L.A. native became Biden’s inauguration poet” (Los Angeles Times, Jan. 17, 2021)
- “Poet Amanda Gorman on how she prepared for Inauguration Day” (PBS Newshour, Jan. 18, 2021)
- “Inaugural poet Gorman’s historic performance” (CBS This Morning, Jan. 20, 2021)
- “Amanda Gorman Will Be the Youngest Inaugural Poet in U.S. History” (Harper’s Bazaar, Jan. 20, 2021)
Articles and Videos Published after Amanda’s Recitation
- “Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, asks ‘Where can we find light?’ in Inauguration Day recitation.” (The New York Times, Jan. 20)
- “Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman: ‘Even as we grieved, we grew.’” (Associated Press, Jan. 20, 2021)
- “Meet Amanda Gorman, the powerful poet laureate who voiced our hope for a unified, better America” (Salon.com, Jan. 20, 2021)
- “Illinois’ top poet on Amanda Gorman: ‘Breathtakingly stunning’ — ‘I’d be proud to have a granddaughter like her’” (Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 20, 2021)
- “Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman on Her Career-Defining Address and Paying Homage to Maya Angelou” (Vogue, Jan. 20, 2021)
- “‘Wow, you’re awesome’: Cooper left speechless by youth poet laureate” (CNN, Jan. 20, 2021)
- “Amanda Gorman’s nods to ‘Hamilton’ won a ‘Brava’ from Lin-Manuel Miranda.” (The New York Times, Jan. 20, 2021)
- “Oprah Gave Poet Amanda Gorman, 22, Earrings and a Caged Bird Ring to Wear on Inauguration Day” (People, Jan. 20, 2021)
- “Amanda Gorman Captures the Moment, in Verse” (The New York Times, Jan. 21)
- “Amanda Gorman Is Giving Americans Hope” (The Late Show with James Corden, Jan. 21, 2021)
- “Amanda Gorman’s poetic answer to pandemic grief: ‘Do not ignore the pain’” (PBS NewsHour, Jan. 21, 2021)
From the Catbird Seat Posts about Inaugural Poets
- “Richard Blanco’s Inaugural Poem: ‘One Today’” (Jan. 28, 2013)
- “Was Maya Angelou a Poet Laureate? Yes and No.” (May 29, 2014)
- “Inaugural Poetry – Robert Frost and Maya Angelou” (Feb. 25, 2016)
- “Poetry and the Presidential Inauguration” (Jan, 18, 2017)
- “Amanda Gorman Selected as President-Elect Joe Biden’s Inaugural Poet” (Jan. 14, 2021)
- “Congratulations to Amanda Gorman” (Jan. 21, 2021)