If you’re anything like me, you spent a sizable chunk of President Joe Biden’s Inauguration ceremony on the verge of tears. There were plenty of moments on the historic day to warrant emotion, but no one spoke more to the mood than Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old Harvard ‘20 grad who delivered the traditional inaugural poem. Standing radiant at the lectern in the yellow coat seen around the world (a nod to First Lady Jill Biden, who’d admired her in the color years earlier and was the one who suggested her for the role) and a striking red headband (which promptly sold out), Gorman reminded the 33.8 million of us watching at home that “being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”
For most of us, watching her deliver her address was like witnessing a star being born in real-time. But despite her age, Gorman has long been earning her moment, building an impressive resume over the years that proves she was always a voice destined to be heard.
Here are five things you need to know about the new poet superstar:
1. She overcame a speech impediment
Like President Biden, Gorman had to fight to overcome a speech impediment in order to perform confidently in front of an audience. “For most of my life, up until two or maybe three years ago, I couldn’t say the letter ‘r,’” she told Anderson Cooper on CNN after the event. “Even to this day sometimes I struggle with it. Which is difficult when you have a poem in which you say ‘rise,’ like, five times.” Writing, she explained, was an early outlet to express her voice.
As if giving a live reading in front of the President — and the entire country — wasn’t hard enough! Before her viral performance on January 20, she told Vogue, “The idea that I would have to recite this poem in front of other people was daunting.” Safe to say, she crushed it.
2. She was the first Youth Poet Laureate
Poet laureates have been named in the US each year since 1985, but only in 2017 was the National Youth Poet Laureate founded to bestow a similar honor upon young people. Amanda Gorman was the group’s first awardee.
Before earning the national honor, she held the title of Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles and was named a spoken word ambassador by Michelle Obama at the White House. But her love of poetry and spoken word goes back further still. She told the Los Angeles Times that her first poetry performance was as far back as the second grade, and that she can still remember her third-grade teacher reciting a piece by Ray Bradbury that stuck with her.
3. She has not one, but two books coming out in 2021
Gorman isn’t wasting any time. In addition to a collection of poetry slated for September titled after her Inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, she’s also releasing a children’s book. Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem is a lyrical picture book illustrated by none other than Loren Long, the artist behind Barack Obama’s kids’ book, Of Thee I Sing. No biggie!
4. Her accomplishments now include a modeling contract and a trip to the Super Bowl
If you thought Gorman was going to take a well-deserved breather after her ascent to the national stage, think again. She was invited to read a poem during the pre-game festivities ahead of Super Bowl LV (who knew the Big Game involved poetry?).
If that wasn’t enough, she’s also signed a contract with IMG, one of the premier modeling agencies in the world. The agency says it’ll help elevate her stature through “brand endorsements and editorial opportunities.” We have a feeling they’re going to be fielding plenty of requests.
5. She’s on a texting-basis with Oprah
“Every single time I get a text from [Oprah] I fall on the floor,” Gorman told Vogue, which seems like a reasonable reaction IMHO. Turns out, the media mogul’s been a fan for years. Delighted that Gorman had been selected for the honor of delivering the inaugural poem, Oprah sent her a pair of hoop earrings and a ring adorned with a caged bird (a nod to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) to wear for the big day.
All this at just 22? Amanda Gorman is a force to be reckoned with. And luckily for us, we certainly haven’t heard the last of her.