An estimated 33.8 million audience members viewed Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration and subsequent oath of office on Jan. 20, 2021, making it the third most viewed presidential inauguration in television history.
Out of all performances and ceremonial festivities, one in particular shifted the country’s collective attention to the forefront of American political perception; Amanda Gorman’s original poem “The Hill We Climb” found widespread public appraisal upon its debut. An excerpt from the poem is as follows:
“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 out our arms
to one another”
(A full reading of Gorman’s poem can be viewed here.)
Gorman’s literary and social work largely draws on issues of race, feminism, oppression and the African diaspora. “The Hill We Climb” is one of many poems in which Gorman emphasizes themes of unity, equality and justice through poignant, intricately-rhymed phrasing. Her words, paired with her seemingly effortless poise that graced the stage that morning, led many — celebrities and politicians alike — to take to social media to marvel at the profundity of Gorman’s speech and express their newly-found feelings of empowerment.
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) January 20, 2021
Such an outpouring of celebrity recognition, however, is not unfamiliar to Gorman. She has previously performed for the likes of Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Oprah Winfrey and Malala Yousafzai, among others. Though interest in the young poet is steadily rising, the public eye has yet to avert its gaze; Gorman is expected to recite an original poem for the Super Bowl LV on Sunday, Feb. 7, which will honor Trimaine Davis, Suzie Dorner and James Martin for their “tremendous impact during an unprecedented year,” according to the NFL.
The 22-year-old poet and activist first spearheaded public consciousness in 2017 for earning the inaugural title of National Youth Poet Laureate. Since then, Gorman has cultivated an extensive repertoire of awards, accolades and achievements — not to mention graduating cum laude from Harvard University in 2020. Prior to having contributed to the New York Times’s newsletter “The Edit” and Nike’s 2020 Black History Month campaign, Gorman first took initiative in becoming the founder and executive director of One Pen One Page, a non-profit organization that operates a literacy, creative writing and leadership program for underserved youth.
Gorman’s penchant for the written and spoken word goes beyond an affinity for self-expression. Both writing and reciting poetry are driving forces in overcoming Gorman’s longtime auditory process disorder and speech impediment. For a majority of her life, Gorman has perpetually struggled to articulate certain letters of the alphabet, especially the letter R. What’s more, a certain song from Miranda’s musical “Hamilton” played a special role in Gorman’s speech training. Gorman told CNN how she would “try to keep up with Leslie Odom Jr.” in the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” — a song fraught with R’s.
Now the youngest inaugural poet in American history, Gorman’s career has only just begun. Gorman is arranged to have three books published by Penguin Random House this year, including “The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country,” a book dedicated to the titular poem recited at Biden’s presidential inauguration. The rest of the publications include a debut collection of never-before-seen poetry and “Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem,” a children’s lyric-based picture book illustrated by No. 1 New York Times best-selling illustrator Loren Long.
As if her long-standing involvement in poetry and activism couldn’t be any more impressive, Gorman promises to run for president in 2036 — a statement that rouses excitement in and of itself. She’s expressed political interest in the past, too; her alma mater’s newspaper named her a “self-described future candidate for the United States presidency.”
For many Americans, Gorman’s inaugural poem was more than just wishful thinking. It is, perhaps, prophetic insight into a brighter, more just future — in other words, “a country that is bruised but whole, / benevolent but bold, / fierce and free.” Should the fate of national democracy lie in the proverbial hands of Gorman’s recital, our country has much to look forward to.
Mia Hammett is an Entertainment Intern for the Winter 2021 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.