American poet and activist Amanda Gorman reached a worldwide audience when she read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden in 2021.
Who Is Amanda Gorman?
Amanda Gorman was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States in 2017. In 2021, she became the youngest poet to write and read her work at a presidential inauguration. The 22-year-old enthralled the Biden inauguration audience with “The Hill We Climb,” which referenced both painful history and hope for the future. Gorman also read a poem at the Super Bowl in 2021, co-hosted 2021’s Met Gala and was named an Estée Lauder Global Changemaker. In addition to poetry, Gorman is an activist who advocates for climate issues, equality and education. She’s been interested in a presidential run since she was 11, and plans to run in 2036, the first cycle in which she’ll be old enough to be elected. Prior to performing, Gorman recites the following mantra: “I’m the daughter of Black writers who are descended from Freedom Fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.”
Amanda Gorman was born on March 7, 1998, in Los Angeles, California, to Joan Wicks. She and twin sister Gabrielle were born prematurely.
Gorman grew up with a speech impediment and was diagnosed with an auditory-processing disorder in kindergarten. This meant she had trouble pronouncing the letter “r” until she was around 20. Gorman explained in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, “I was born early, along with my twin, and a lot of times, for infants, that can lead to learning delays.”
Gorman participated in speech therapy. She also found the Hamilton soundtrack to be a useful tool in pronouncing “r” sounds. “I would listen to the track of ‘Aaron Burr, Sir,’ and try to do it over and over and over again,” she said.
Her situation presented difficulties, but also had benefits. Gorman shared with Winfrey, “I think it made me all that much stronger of a writer when you have to teach yourself how to say words from scratch. When you are learning through poetry how to speak English, it lends to a great understanding of sound, of pitch, of pronunciation, so I think of my speech impediment not as a weakness or a disability, but as one of my greatest strengths.”
Gorman grew up in West Los Angeles and attended the private progressive school New Roads in Santa Monica. As her mother taught middle-school English in Watts, Gorman learned about disparities in educational opportunity.
Gorman was a youth delegate for the United Nations when she was 16. She attended Harvard University, where she majored in sociology. Gorman graduated cum laude, remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020.
Writing and Poetry
By the time she was 5, Gorman would wake her mother early in the morning because she wanted paper to write. Hearing the poem “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury in third grade was another early link to her love of poetry. However, Gorman said in 2021, “I actually started writing poetry before I started reading it, mostly because at the time poetry wasn’t something that was taught robustly in my classrooms.”
In middle school, Gorman read poems by Sonia Sanchez, which she adored. Then diving into Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of African American Poetry left Gorman feeling even more connected to poetry. She further developed her love of writing with mentors from the nonprofit organization WriteGirl. She went on to perform for WriteGirl, The Moth and Urban Word.
At the age of 16, Gorman was named L.A. Youth Poet Laureate. She became the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017. Her organization One Pen One Page was founded to promote youth literacy and creativity.
Gorman’s work has been published in The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough (2015), The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country (2021), and Call Us What We Carry (2021). The poetry in Call Us What We Carry draws on the experience of living through the Covid-19 pandemic. Gorman also researched events like the 1918 flu pandemic for her work.
Gorman has penned the children’s book Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem (2021). She described it as a “poetic rallying cry for kids who want to make a difference.”
Another Gorman interest is in writing novels. “Novel writing was my original love, and I still hope to do it. I just typically can finish writing a single poem faster than I can an entire narrative book!”
Inaugural Poem: “The Hill We Climb”
Dr. Jill Biden, who’d seen Gorman perform, suggested Gorman write a poem for the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. At the end of December 2020, the Biden Inaugural Committee invited Gorman to perform at the inauguration.
To prepare for this, Gorman read speeches by Frederick Douglass, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. She also studied the work of previous inaugural poets such as Maya Angelou, a longtime inspiration for her, and Elizabeth Alexander.
Gorman added lines to her poem following the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. She told the Los Angeles Times, “I crafted an inaugural poem that recognizes these scars and these wounds. Hopefully, it will move us toward healing them.”
On January 20, 2021, Gorman wore a yellow coat, her trademark color, with her hair crowned by a red Prada headband. She also sported a caged-bird ring, which had been gifted to her by Winfrey, in honor of Angelou. Gorman then mesmerized the audience at the inauguration, and those watching elsewhere, with “The Hill We Climb.”
Prior to 2021, Gorman had shared her poetry at the Obama White House, the Library of Congress and Lincoln Center. However, her unforgettable performance at the Biden-Harris inauguration brought Gorman to a new level of fame.
Post-inauguration, Gorman read a poem, “Chorus of the Captains,” at the Super Bowl in 2021. That appearance had been in the works before her breakthrough inauguration performance, but Gorman has received numerous other offers since then. She told Vogue, “I have to be conscious of taking commissions that speak to me.” Fortunately, she has mentors in her life like Winfrey, who has provided Gorman with advice since their meeting on John Krasinski’s YouTube show Some Good News in May 2020.
Gorman has signed with IMG Models, appeared on the cover of Vogue and inked a three-year deal with Estée Lauder to be its first Global Changemaker. In that role, Gorman will appear in ads while also curating grants to promote literacy for women and girls.
Gorman also co-hosted the 2021 Met Gala, along with Timothée Chalamet, Billie Eilish and Naomi Osaka. At the event she appeared in an outfit inspired by the Statue of Liberty.
At the end of 2021, Gorman’s poem “A New Day’s Lyric” was released on Instagram’s official account to herald the new year of 2022. Gorman felt the endeavor would help raise money for the International Rescue Committee, with Instagram contributing $50,000.