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Who is Amanda Gorman, 22-Year-Old Who Made History as Youngest Inaugural Poet in US?

Amanda Gorman on Inauguration Day | Image credit: AP

Amanda Gorman on Inauguration Day | Image credit: AP

As Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US President, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet in the history of the United States.

As Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on Wednesday, many new histories were created. Biden became the oldest President the US has ever had and his running mate Kamala Harris became the first woman and person of colour to become US Vice President. But another person who quietly made history was 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, who became the youngest poet to recite at a presidential inauguration.

On Wednesday, Gorman who chosen to read at the inauguration of Biden, continued the tradition for Democratic presidents who have previously been sworn in by poets like Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

Gorman's inaugural poem was called “The Hill We Climb”.

Gorman summoned images dire and triumphant Wednesday as she called out to the world “even as we grieved, we grew."

In language referencing Biblical scripture and at times echoing the oratory of John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the 22-year-old Gorman read with urgency and assertion as she began by asking “Where can we find light/In this never-ending shade?” and used her own poetry and life story as an answer. The poem's very title, “The Hill We Climb,” suggested both labor and transcendence.

"We did not feel prepared to be the heirs

Of such a terrifying hour.

But within it we’ve found the power

To author a new chapter,

To offer hope and laughter to ourselves."

As her performance went viral, social media went crazy with praise.

Who is Amanda Gorman?

At age 22, Gorman is a Los-Angeles based poet and activist who became the youngest poet to be part of a Presidential inaugural ceremony. But the young poet already has a history of writing for official occasions.

“I have kind of stumbled upon this genre. It’s been something I find a lot of emotional reward in, writing something I can make people feel touched by, even if it’s just for a night,” says Gorman. The Los Angeles resident has written for everything from a July 4 celebration featuring the Boston Pops Orchestra to the inauguration at Harvard University, her alma mater, of school president Larry Bacow.

The latter’s “On the Pulse of Morning,” written for the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton, went on to sell more than 1 million copies when published in book form. Recent readers include poets Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco, both of whom Gorman has been in touch with.

“The three of us are together in mind, body and spirit,” she says.

Not new to the limelight

Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in memory, and she has made news before. In 2014, she was named the first Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and three years later she became the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. She has appeared on MTV; written a tribute to Black athletes for Nike; published her first book, “The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough,” as a teenager, and has a two-book deal with Viking Children’s Books. The first work, the picture book “Change Sings,” comes out later this year.

In previous interviews, Gorman had said she was contacted late last month by the Biden inaugural committee. She has known numerous public figures, including former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama, but hadn't metthe Biden then. The Bidens, apparently, have been aware of her: Gorman said the inaugural officials told her she had been recommended by the incoming first lady, Jill Biden.

Gorman had also said she was not given specific instructions on what to write, but was encouraged to emphasize unity and hope over “denigrating anyone” or declaring “ding, dong, the witch is dead” over the departure of President Donald Trump.

The siege last week of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the election was a challenge for keeping a positive tone, but also an inspiration. Gorman had said that she had been given 5 minutes to read, and before what she described during an interview as “the Confederate insurrection” of Jan. 6 she had only written about 3 1-2 minutes worth.

The final length ran to about six minutes.

“That day gave me a second wave of energy to finish the poem,” says Gorman, adding that she will not refer directly to Jan. 6, but will “touch” upon it. She said last week’s events did not upend the poem she had been working on because they didn’t surprise her.

“The poem isn’t blind,” she said. “It isn’t turning your back to the evidence of discord and division.”

In other writings, Gorman has honored her ancestors, acknowledged and reveled in her own vulnerability (“Glorious in my fragmentation,” she has written) and confronted social issues. Her poem “In This Place (An American Lyric),” written for the 2017 inaugural reading of U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, condemns the racist march in Charlottesville, Virginia (“tiki torches string a ring of flame”) and holds up her art form as a force for democracy.

(With inputs from Associated Press)

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