When Amanda Gorman read her poetry at Biden’s inauguration, she captivated the American nation. Her poem “The Hill We Climb” was finished on January 6, the night of the 2021 United States Capitol Attack. The work challenges listeners to face the harsh realities of race and racial injustice in our nation. Gorman’s message was nothing short of profound. The 22 year-old poet from Los Angeles overshadowed other inauguration performers like Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez. Amanda Gorman went on to publish three books, perform at the Super Bowl, grace the April 2021 cover of Vogue, and sign to IMG Models, the same modeling agency that represents Kate Moss and both Bella and Gigi Hadid. She is recognized globally as the youngest inaugural poet in history and the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate. Despite all these achievements, Amanda Gorman recently admitted in the New York Times that she almost turned down speaking at the Inauguration altogether.
Reading this personal essay, it is not hard to imagine why Gorman wouldn’t want to speak. She describes how her mother practiced crouching over her body the night before, ready to become a body shield in a moment’s notice. Another family member told Gorman that if she went to recite her poem on the Capitol steps, she should be “ready to die.” Yet, Amanda Gorman stood where the insurrection had occurred just weeks before and preached to a divided country about the very issues that were dividing them: the human rights that lie at the foundation of our nation and its people.
One of the bravest things that Amanda Gorman has done is allow herself to become a public and political figure. In standing on those steps, she became a face for a presidential administration and a voice for a generation. Everything that Gorman does is deliberate. She never swears, avoids posting negativity on her social media, and recites her poetry with precise hand motions, allowing her to reach and engage with audiences despite her speech impediment.
Sometimes, it is hard to remember that behind the moving poetry, the incredible accolades, and the magazine covers is someone not much older than the students at Bucknell. She loves the color yellow, regularly hikes, and is a proud Pisces. Meanwhile, “The Hill We Climb” has taken on a life of its own. It has been translated into over 17 languages, and her recent book Call Us What We Carry is currently being translated by Hungarian Roma, who make up the largest and one of the most marginalized groups in Europe. The poems, which inspire individuals to move past their fear and enact change, have resonated with millions of people across the globe.
The reach of Gorman’s work makes it questionable whether “The Hill We Climb” still belongs to Amanda at all. Does it belong, instead, to the people who have been affected by it so deeply? To the people who are using it as the cornerstone of their own movements? Furthermore, is it unfair to call Amanda Gorman “the inaugural poet” when she has already accomplished so much since then? Whether we are choosing to admire Amanda Gorman or her work, there is no doubt that she is writing a legacy that will stand the test of time. She is also proving how much young women of color are capable of and that “there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”