All you need to know about the American National Youth Poet Laureate, who captured the world with her poetry and poise …
On her website 22-year-old Amanda Gorman defines herself as a “wordsmith and change maker,” and in The Hill We Climb she further described her background as a “skinny Black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother,” who can dream of being president one day, “only to find herself reciting for one.” Gorman was born in Los Angeles where her mother is a school teacher. She began writing poetry in the playground and at 16 was named Youth Poet Laureate of LA. She went on to study sociology at Harvard, graduating last year. She wrote The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, in 2015, has contributed to the New York Times, and penned the manifesto for Nike’s 2020 Black History Month campaign. Gorman has received many awards – from Glamour magazine for College Women of the Year and from Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers – culminating in 2017 when she was named National Youth Poet Laureate.
She is not the first poet to participate at presidential inaugurations but she is the youngest. Yesterday, she joined the ranks of Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams, Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco. Wearing “illuminating yellow” Pantone’s colour of the year with a coat and hairband by Prada, Gorman paid tribute to Angelou’s memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – by wearing a caged bird ring gifted to her by Oprah for the occasion.
Unlike her predecessors, Gorman set out to write something new – a poem to inspire hope and foster a sense of communal purpose. She wrote a few lines of The Hill We Climb each day and was mindful not to ignore the events of January 6. “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 said. “It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.” Also included in The Hill We Climb were references to the Hamilton – the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Her line “History has its eyes on us” – was a variation of the song from the musical History Has Its Eyes On You.
While clearly under pressure to do justice to the moment, Gorman was also worried about her speech impediment. “The writing process is its own excruciating form, but as someone with a speech impediment, speaking in front of millions of people presents its own type of terror.”
In September this year she will publish an illustrated children’s book Change Sings and a poetry collection – no doubt both will become best sellers. For reference, Angelou’s On The Pulse Of The Morning, which she read at the 1993 inaugural of President Bill Clinton, went on to sell more than one million copies as a book.
Here’s The Hill We Climb once more
Madam Vice President
Americans and the world
One day comes we ask ourselves “where can we find light in this neverending shade?”
The loss we carry, a sea we must wade
We braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions of “what just is” isn’t always “just is.”
And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We the successors of a country in a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president
Only to find herself reciting for one.
And yes we are far from polished, far from pristine
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed
To all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
But what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first
We must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
So we can reach our arms to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the glow if nothing else say, “this is true.”
That even as we grieved we grew
That even as we hurt we hoped,
That even as we tired we tried
That we’ll be forever tied together victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat,
But because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree,
And no one should make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time,
Then victory won’t lighten the blade but in all the bridges we made,
That is the promise to glade,
The hill we climb.
If only we dare it because being American is more than a pride we inherit
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
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.
This is the era of just redemption we feared it at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laugh or to ourselves,
So while once we ask “how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe”
Now we assert,
“How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?”
We will not march back to what was
But move to what shall be a country that is bruised but whole,
Benevolent but bold,
Fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation
Because know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blenders because their burdens
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might,
And might with right,
Then love becomes our legacy in change
Our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left
With every breath from our bronze-pounded chest
We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limb hills of the west
We will rise from the wind-swept northeast
Where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states
We will rise from the sun-baked South
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
And every known nook of our nation
And every corner called our country
Our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light if only we are brave enough to see it.
If only we are brave enough to be it.
Main featured image via @amandascgorman Instagram
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