From Kamala Harris being sworn in as the first Black, South-Asian, and female Vice President to hosting a field of flags in place of spectators, yesterday’s inauguration made all kinds of history.
22-year-old Amanda Gorman also added to the day of firsts as the youngest known inaugural poet to speak at the ceremony. Her words offered a message of hope during a particularly divisive time in our history, a theme that the Biden administration has been embracing. Entitled The Hill We Climb, Amanda’s poem also tied together themes from the infamous musical Hamilton – one of her latest inspirations – and poet Maya Angelou – her earliest.
As a child, Amanda took a much longer time to learn to read than her peers, but after she got the hang of it, she quickly became an avid reader and writer. When a teacher introduced her to poetry and metaphor for the first time, it became a brand new way for Amanda to express herself. She especially resonated with Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, as they both overcame years of not speaking up for themselves for the love of poetry.
Following the ceremony, Amanda elaborated on her experience battling her speech issues – much like President Biden himself – in an interview that left CNN anchor Anderson Cooper speechless. The poet explained that even from a young age, writing and reciting poetry was her own version of speech therapy. Even so, her speech impediment followed her to Harvard University, where she began listening to the Hamilton soundtrack to help her pronounce the letter “r”. “I would listen to the song ‘Aarron Burr, Sir’… and I would try to keep up with Leslie Odom Jr,” she explained to Cooper. “I told myself that if I can train myself to do this song, then I can train myself to say this letter.”
Organizations such as Urban Word and WriteGirl also pushed Amanda to always be continually creative, and use her own words to help overcome her speech issues. She became the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate, the younger version of the National Poet Laureate chosen annually by the Library of Congress, in 2017, through Urban Word’s youth laureate program. Shortly after earning the title she published a collection of poems, The One for Whom Food is Not Enough, and within a day of the inaugural ceremonies her upcoming collections, The Hill We Climb and Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem – which release on September 21 – had already reached the top two slots on Amazon’s Best Sellers list.
With so many impressive feats under her belt already, I can’t wait to see what Amanda does next.