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Amanda Gorman: A year after 'The Hill We Climb'

January 20, 2022

Two books, the covers of Vogue and TIME, a Super Bowl debut, and a 2036 presidential bid backed by Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. This poet has been busy.

A young African American woman dressed in a yellow coat and wearing a red headband speaks into the microphone. It is American National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman
The poet who outshone a presidentImage: Captital Pictures/picture alliance

A year ago today, thousands watched transfixed as a young Black woman with a luminous smile outshone US President Joe Biden at his own inauguration ceremony. 

As the youngest inaugural poet in US history, many may have wondered who she was as she stepped up to the podium with a composure belying her 22 years, wearing a bright yellow Prada coat with her hair worn up and encircled by a red satin headband.

Today, Amanda Gorman is best remembered for her stirring recitation of her inaugural poem, "The Hill We Climb."

With her opening lines alluding to the siege of the Capitol by a violent mob of Donald Trump supporters on January 6, 2021, just days prior to Biden's inauguration, her poem ended on a note of promise and hope.

The Harvard graduate even suggested running for the office herself: "a skinny Black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother, who can dream of being president one day, only to find herself reciting for one."

Her performance went viral.

Sharing a wefie later — featuring the poet and her mother Joan Wicks as well as former president Bill Clinton — former Secretary of State and presidential contender Hillary Clinton tweeted her support for Gorman's presidential aspirations.

Rhyme with reason

Some may have also noted her enunciation — especially her stressing of the letter "r." This stems from an auditory processing disorder that she was diagnosed with in childhood that impeded her speech articulation. It was writing and oral poetry recitation that helped her deal with this; in the process, she ended up being named the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017.

Poet Amanda Gorman at the annual Met Gala in New York
Looking regal at the Met Gala in September 2021Image: Evan Agostini/AP/picture alliance

Speaking to NPR prior to the inauguration, Gorman said her struggle to speak proved to be a connection for her to Biden and her "beacon," fellow American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. Both Biden and Angelou had speech impediments too.

"Maya Angelou was mute growing up as a child and she grew up to deliver the inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton," Gorman said. "So I think there is a real history of orators who have had to struggle with a type of imposed voicelessness, you know, having that stage in the inauguration."

Gorman's inauguration day outfit actually included a tribute to Angelou. Her  ring, gifted by talk show host Oprah Winfrey, featured a caged bird — in honor of Angelou's 1969 autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."

'Not lightning that strikes once'

Gorman's star has been on the ascent since that sunny winter morning of January 20, 2021.

She was on the cover of Time magazine in February 2021, interviewed by Michelle Obama.

Referring to the accolades she'd received, she advised other girls of color to aspire beyond singular events. "You really have to crown yourself with the belief that what I'm about and what I'm here for is way beyond this moment. I'm learning that I am not lightning that strikes once. I am the hurricane that comes every single year, and you can expect to see me again soon."

This was followed up by her turn at the 2021 Super Bowl — the first poet ever to perform at a US sporting event.

Reciting her poem "Chorus of the Captains," she honored three individuals who exhibited extraordinary leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Poet Amanda Gorman on the cover of Vogue
Gorman's sartorial sideImage: Vogue

She displayed her affinity for fashion when she graced the cover of Vogue in May 2021, during which she also shared how she has become more discerning of work commissions, revealing that she'd turned down about $17 million in publicity offers.

And although she signed a contract with the prestigious IMG Models Worldwide, which represents among others Gisele Bündchen, Gigi Hadid and Kate Moss, she told Vogue that she is "wary about being perceived as a model."

Malala's book club choice

Book cover 'Change Sings' by Amanda Gorman and Loren Long
Reminding young readers of their power to change the worldImage: Viking

In addition to her viral inaugural poem that was eventually released as a book, Gorman also published two other books last year: all three topped bestseller lists.

On Instagram, she described her children's book titled "Change Sings," as "a children's anthem to remind young readers that they have the power to shape the world."

Meanwhile, the now 23-year-old's collection of poems, titled "Call Us What We Carry," is this month's pick of The Fearless Book Club founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai.

Book cover of Amanda Gorman's collection of poems titled 'Call Us What We Carry'
Exploring history, language and identity through poetryImage: Viking Books via AP/picture alliance

Often hailed as part of a new generation of poets of color who've made poetry mainstream in popular culture again, Gorman's last 12 months of reflections in rhyme is perhaps best summed up in her own play of words:

On justice: "We've learned that quiet isn't always peace. And the norms and notions of 'what just is' isn't always 'justice.'"

On the power of women: "We are not victims, we are victors. The greatest predictors of progress."

On hope and courage: "There is always light. If only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it."

On self-determination: "The only approval you need is your own."

On leaving legacies: "For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us."


Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier

Brenda Haas | Porträt
Brenda Haas Writer and editor for DW Culture