Amanda Gorman will become the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history today when she recites her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony Wednesday.
The 22-year-old Los Angeles resident and daughter of a school teacher began writing at an early age in an attempt to cope with a speech impediment. Her writing practice took off, and at age 14, she joined WriteGirl, an LA-based nonprofit that helps teen girls discover the power of their voice through creative writing. Gorman credits the support of the group for allowing her to chase her dreams as a writer, reports CBS Los Angeles.
By age 16, she was named the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and a few years later while studying sociology at Harvard, she became the first National Youth Poet Laureate.
Gorman was invited to recite at the inauguration at the request of Jill Biden, the incoming first lady, who had seen the young poet give a reading at the Library of Congress, and suggested in late December she read something at the inauguration.
For the past few weeks, Gorman wrote a few lines a day, and she finished writing late into the night of Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol Building.
Her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” will align with the theme of the swearing-in ceremony of calling for national unity during a time of unprecedented illness, death and political division in the country. In researching for her work, Gorman drew inspiration from the speeches of American leaders during other historic times of division, including Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“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.”
Gorman will join the likes of Maya Angelou and Robert Frost in the small group of poets who’ve been invited to mark a presidential inauguration. To prepare for the event Wednesday, she spoke to two previous inauguration poets, Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco, for advice.
Blanco offered comforting words, Gorman told The New York Times, when he said that “it’s just not one of us up there, it’s a representation of American poetry.”
“Now more than ever, the United States needs an inaugural poem,” Gorman said. “Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.”
Gorman’s own future is bright: She has two books publishing soon, including the children’s book “Change Sings” due out in September. She’s also announced her intentions to run for president in 2036, reports the LA Times, the first election cycle when she’ll be old enough to do so. The poet credits the political career and accomplishments of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for inspiring her plans.
“There’s no denying that a victory for her is a victory for all of us who would like to see ourselves represented as women of color in office,” Gorman told the LA Times. “It makes it more imaginable. Once little girls can see it, little girls can be it. Because they can be anything that they want, but that representation to make the dream exist in the first place is huge — even for me.”