On January 20th, 2021, a young poet electrified the nation with a beautiful poem read at the presidential inauguration. You might even say she stole the show (apart from the Bernie Sanders bit of it) as social media users shared her reading of an original poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
Soon the internet was buzzing with the question, “Who is Amanda Gorman?”
So, let’s see if we can answer that question.
Who is Amanda Gorman? She’s a poet.
And the first youth poet laureate, too. Not to mention, at 22, the youngest-ever inaugural poet, following in the footsteps of such prestigious poets as Maya Angelou and Robert Frost.
The daughter of a middle school English teacher, Gorman remembers the first time wordsmithery sparked her imagination. She was in third grade and the work was Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. One of the work’s metaphors caught her attention. A glimpse at Goodreads shows a plethora of possible quotes from Dandelion Wine, including this quote:
Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.Dandelion Wine
Reading Bradbury, one can understand why the metaphors caught the young Gorman’s attention. In a Time interview with Michelle Obama, Gorman mentioned some of the poets, authors, and musicians who inspired her poem, “The Hill We Climb” citing, among others, Phillis Wheatley, Winston Churchill, and Dario Marianelli. In an interview with Oprah, she also referenced being inspired by the work of Toni Morrison.
Gorman’s rise to fame has not been without difficulties. She has an auditory processing disorder and a speech impediment that for years had her pronouncing poetry as “poetwy.” Yet, she sees how this inspired her writing.
For a long time, I looked at it as a weakness. Now I really look at it as a strength because going through that process, it made me a writer, for one, because I had to find a form in which I could communicate other than through my mouth.Time interview
The Hill We Climb
In her inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb” Gorman included references to other inspirations, including Maya Angelou and Lin-Manuel Miranda with two Hamilton quotes. In fact, Gorman has said it was practicing Hamilton, in particular “Aaron Burr, Sir” that helped her pronounce the letter “r.”
“The Hill We Climb” also features a host of historical and literary references. It’s not surprising that it made Gorman a bestseller. Her recently published book edition of “The Hill We Climb” just topped the NYT bestseller list for the second week running.
Not only that, but on Twitter Gorman wrote,
Speaking of history being made, Gorman is also the first poet to be asked to perform at the Superbowl.
But despite all this she is also more than a poet.
Who is Amanda Gorman? She’s an activist.
Gorman understands the power of language. “Poetry and language are often at the heartbeat of movements for change.” Gorman said during her Time interview.
A savvy social media user, she navigates the online world shrewdly. From clarifying on Twitter the meaning of her youth poet title:
To sharing on Instagram a glimpse of her growth with an encouragement for other young writers:
And while she isn’t afraid to cover hard topics such as being followed home by a suspicious security guard, she also adds some wimsey to her Twitter feed:
Who is Amanda Gorman? She’s an icon.
It’s a weighty word, but considering she is the first poet to make the cover of Vogue and has signed a modeling contract with IMG Models, it seems appropriate.
She understands the weight of her role, too.
“What’s been exciting for me is I get to absorb and to live in that creation I see from other African-American artists that I look up to. But then I also get to create art and participate in that historical record.” Gorman told Michelle Obama.
The 23-year old Harvard graduate hasn’t been shy about her goals. In “The Hill We Climb” she brought hope to the nation and also shared a personal dream,
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken,
but simply unfinished.
We the successors of a country and 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.“The Hill We Climb”
Yes, she does intend to run for president the moment she’s eligible. . . . 2036 to be precise. But till that day, we look forward to enjoying her poems, including her upcoming books. Who is Amanda Gorman? She’s an inspiration.