At the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration, many are commemorating one of the most notable changing of the guards in history. Though former President Donald Trump was (thankfully) absent from Wednesday's events, several key speakers and celebrities kicked off celebrations. After Lady Gaga slayed the National Anthem (holding a matching gold microphone, no less), Jennifer Lopez sang a medley of patriotic classics, and Garth Brooks also took the stage — as tradition entails. But the performer whose words moved people the most was Amanda Gorman, the youngest inauguration poet in U.S. history.
The 22-year-old, who was the Youth Poet Laureate of 2017, performed a piece called “The Hill We Climbed.” It was incoming first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, who recommended Gorman read at the inauguration, and her piece kept with the theme of the day: unity and hope.
According to Gorman, she wrote a few lines of her poem per day instead of trying to write the entire poem in one go. “I had this huge thing, probably one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my career,” she said in an interview with the New York Times. “It was like, if I try to climb this mountain all at once, I’m just going to pass out.”
By January 6, the day of the insurrection at the Capitol, Gorman was halfway through writing the piece. She stayed up that night finishing it. Of that surreal day, Gorman wrote, “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.”
She even threw in some Hamilton references, quoting from George Washington’s farewell song, “One Last Time.” “Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.” She also quoted the line, “History has its eyes on us.”
But Gorman was not willing to look away from hard realities. “In my poem, I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal,” she told the Times. “It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.”
Gorman is set to have a big year. In addition to gaining a national audience following her inauguration performance, Gorman will release two books in September. Her debut poetry collection, which shares a title with her inauguration poem, will be released for teen and adult readers. The same day, her debut picture book, called Change Sings, will also be released.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) January 20, 2021
A nation that isn't broken
but simply unfinished
There is always light
if only we're brave enough to see it
if only we're brave enough to be it.
— Amanda Gorman