On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, a 22-year-old writer from Los Angeles — and first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate — captivated the nation as she recited her poem "The Hill We Climb.” Here are five things to know about Amanda Gorman, the rising star of the inauguration.
(1) She’s from Los Angeles.
Amanda Gorman was born in Los Angeles and raised by her mother, Joan Wicks, alongside her two siblings. Growing up, Gorman and her siblings rarely had access to “regular” television shows. “If I wanted to watch regular TV, I’d have to make a social justice argument as to why,” Gorman told the Harvard Crimson. But it is there — at home — where Gorman and her twin sister, Gabrielle, trace the beginnings of their creativity and activism. But where does Gorman’s writing come in? That started when she was just 5 years old. “I also wanted to be a songwriter,” Gorman told The Lily. “Growing up, I thought ‘That’s going to be my thing. … But I realized I cannot sing to save my life!’” Still, she kept writing.
(2) She overcame a speech impediment as a child.
As a child, Gorman had a speech impediment stemming from her auditory processing disorder. The letter “R” is “the bane of my existence,” she told the Harvard Crimson. Because of this, writing has always been an incredibly important part of her self-expression — labeling her impediment a gift and a strength rather than a crutch. While there are still moments of struggle, Gorman finds empowerment through the youth that is now looking up to her. “Every now and then there will be a little girl at an event and she goes, ‘I have an auditory processing disorder too and I sound exactly like you.’”
(3) She graduated from Harvard University.
During her time at Harvard, Gorman separated her title as National Youth Poet Laureate from her work as a Sociology student. Many often questioned why she wasn’t pursuing English, but Gorman would simply answer, “Because I want to learn something new!” When she was a senior in high school, Gorman received the Milken Family Foundation scholarship and has since described her time at Harvard as one full of rich memories, knowledge, and friendships. Still, she was often met with moments of adversity, but none ever too big for her to overcome. “As a black girl and descendant of slaves, graduating college, let alone from an Ivy League university, meant I was able to access a knowledge — which is power — that had been kept out of my people’s hands for generations,” Gorman wrote on her Instagram.
(4) She’s the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history.
When Gorman delivered her original composition “The Hill We Climb,” at the 59th Presidential Inauguration, she became the youngest to do so in our country’s history. At just 22 years old, Gorman inked her name next to Richard Blanco (2013), Elizabeth Alexander (2009), Miller Williams (1997), Maya Angelou (1993), and Robert Frost (1961) as the 6th poet to read their work at an inauguration. For this historic occasion, Gorman researched the works of Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but it was the riots at the Capitol that shifted her poem and brought together the message that she wanted to deliver. Part of her poem reads:
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
History has its eyes on us.
Being part of the inauguration, and seeing Madame Vice President Kamala Harris take office, further invigorated the plans Gorman has for the future. She recently told the L.A. Times that she plans to run for president in 2036 (the first election in which she’ll be eligible). “There’s no denying that a victory for [Kamala Harris] is a victory for all of us who would like to see ourselves represented as women of color in office,” she said. “It makes it more imaginable.”
(5) She is the author of two books.
What Gorman has been able to accomplish in her career thus far is simply incredible… and there are no signs of her slowing down. Following her performance at Wednesday’s inauguration, both of Gorman’s books skyrocketed to the top of multiple bestseller lists. “I AM ON THE FLOOR MY BOOKS ARE #1 & #2 ON AMAZON AFTER 1 DAY!” Gorman shared on Twitter. “Thank you so much to everyone for supporting me and my words.” The young poet is in good company with two other notable Black authors joining her at the top of Amazon’s list — Meena Harris, Vice President Kamala Harris' niece, and Former President Barack Obama. Amanda’s titles “The Hill We Climb: Poems” and “Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem” are available for preorder now and expected to be released on September 21, 2021.