Amanda Gorman: Making History at 22
By: Luci Hagen
Photo by: TED conference
On January 20th, Amanda Gorman became the youngest out of a small select group of inaugural poets in history (including Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Richard Blanco, Miller Williams, and Elizabeth Alexander) at only 22 years old. The talented, rising young activist and poet was given the arduous task of writing a poem in an especially discouraging time of political divide and the Covid-19 pandemic. But the trust that was put into her for this task was not an unwise decision, for Gorman already has proven herself wise and talented beyond her years, and even better she has overcome many difficult challenges in her earlier years already.
Born in 1998 and raised by her single, English teacher mother in LA, she struggled with a speech impediment all her life, similar to the president. Just up until a few years ago she could not recite the letter “r” at all, a letter that is pronounced frequently in her inaugural poem. In fact, she turned to the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton to help with her “r”s, especially the song “Aaron Burr, Sir”. She references Hamilton twice in her poem, first in the line: “History has its eyes on us.” and later a line that is spoken by Hamilton’s George Washington “that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree.” Lin Manuel Miranda in fact was one of the many celebrities and powerful political voices to celebrate her poem on social media, as well as the poet Jericho Brown, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, and many others. Not only did she receive an insane amount of praise for her inspiring words that were felt heavily by her country, but she also received 2 million more Instagram followers than previously and stated in interviews that she could not access her social media for a day because it was crashing with notifications from all of her accounts.
Gorman is no stranger to making great accomplishments at young ages. She became the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at 16 years old, and later while studying sociology at Harvard she became the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate. She has already released two books, though they aren’t being shipped out quite yet, and after her incredible performance at the inauguration, those two are already at Amazon’s number one and number two on the Amazon bestsellers list. We can certainly expect more writing to come from this gifted young woman.
Gorman was very overwhelmed by the amount of trust Jill Biden put into her after seeing her recite poetry at the Library of Congress, so she decided to stick with focusing intently on perfecting a couple of lines a day. When she was around halfway done with her poem on January 6th, she was stuck and did not know how to proceed. On that same fateful day of January 6th, the pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol. As the events unfolded Gorman wrote direct references to the riots: “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.”
There is no doubt that America has not heard the last of Amanda Gorman. She surely will continue breaking records, inspiring millions young and old across the country, and possibly even running for president in 2036 as she said in an interview with Playbill. She even recites in her inaugural poem “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.” In times of uncertainty, the comfort of one woman’s voice has sparked a passion and given hope for change to the entire country. What more can one hope for out of an inaugural poem?