Amanda Gorman for president? Why Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton are praising poet as the voice of the future
Oprah Winfrey and Lin-Manuel Miranda are just a few of the celebrities who cheered the young poet on at Joe Biden's inauguration
The American poet and activist read a poem at Wednesday's inauguration, with her performance celebrated by some of Hollywood's biggest and brightest names.
America's first youth poet laureate, and the youngest poet to ever perform at a presidential inauguration, captured the world's collective attention with her reading of The Hill We Climb, which called for unity as the US enters a new chapter in its history.
It was first lady Jill Biden who had originally asked the young poet to pen a poem for her husband's swearing-in ceremony. Ms Gorman had previously caught the first lady's eye during a reading of In This Place: An American Lyric, which she delivered at the Library of Congress in 2017.
Who is Amanda Gorman?
The 23-year-old comes from Los Angeles, where she grew up with her mother, Joan Wicks, who teaches at a middle school. "Having a mum who is a teacher had a huge impact on me," Ms Gorman has said in the past.
It was hearing Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine in the third grade that originally piqued Ms Gorman's interest in poetry. Her forays into school drama also set her up for a career as a public speaker.
It didn't come easy, though, as like the new US president, Ms Gorman struggled with a childhood speech impediment, having difficulty saying certain letters.
When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds, when you have to be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience
That has not held her back, however. In fact, it has only fuelled her. “It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be," she told The Los Angeles Times. "When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds, when you have to be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience."
This mastery saw her, at the age of 16, become the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles, as well as the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. On Wednesday, she became the youngest poet to write and recite a piece at a presidential inauguration.
While the Washington crowd was undoubtedly her biggest and most important, Ms Gorman has previously performed at the Empire State Building to mark the Fourth of July and at the inauguration of a new president of Harvard University.
The Harvard sociology graduate is also an author of books, having published her first, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, in 2015, with a picture book, Change Sings, due to come out later this year. This will be the first of two children's books she has planned.
A new presidential hopeful?
Ms Gorman has spoken about a broad range of issues in the past, from racism to police brutality and the incarceration of migrant children.
She has also announced her intention to run for president in 2036, when she will be old enough to do so. She previously shared her dreams of one day becoming president with her alma mater's college paper and The New York Times.
Watching Vice President Kamala Harris sworn into office has undoubtedly fuelled this ambition.
"There’s no denying that a victory for her is a victory for all of us who would like to see ourselves represented as women of colour in office," Ms Gorman told The Los Angeles Times. "It makes it more imaginable."
When the time comes for her to run for office, she will have no shortage of famous fans.
Oprah Winfrey was among the many celebrities to praise Ms Gorman for her work yesterday.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering – and so am I.”
Ms Winfrey also reportedly gifted Ms Gorman the jewellery she donned for the occasion. This includes a ring in the shape of a caged bird by Of Rare Origin, a tribute to African-American poet Maya Angelou, who read On the Pulse of Morning at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993.
The media mogul also presented the young poet with a pair of gold hoop earrings by Greek designer Nikos Koulis.
Ms Gorman paired these with a bright yellow double-breasted coat and a red satin headband, both by Prada. The jacket was a nod to the first lady, who had previously praised her decision to wear yellow at another occasion, reported Vogue.
Michelle Obama also congratulated Ms Gorman. On Twitter, the former first lady wrote: "With her strong and poignant words, Amanda Gorman reminds us of the power we each hold in upholding our democracy. Keep shining, Amanda! I can't wait to see what you do next. Two hearts #BlackGirlMagic."
Her husband, former president Barack Obama, is also a fan. He reportedly sought the young poet out after her reading to congratulate her in person.
He also wrote on Twitter: "On a day for the history books, Amanda Gorman delivered a poem that more than met the moment. Young people like her are proof that 'there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it; if only we're brave enough to be it.'"
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton also tweeted her support. "Wasn't Amanda Gorman's poem just stunning? She's promised to run for president in 2036 and I for one can't wait."
A fan of 'Hamilton'
Ms Gorman has said she wrote the composition after researching the speeches of renowned orators Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. But there was also a more modern influence: a nod to the hit musical Hamilton.
Responding to a tweet from the show's creator and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ms Gorman wrote: "Did you catch the 2 @HamiltonMusical references in the inaugural poem? I couldn't hep myself!"
“You were perfect. Perfectly written, perfectly delivered. Every bit of it. Brava!” Mr Miranda wrote back.
The first reference was in the line: "For while we have our eyes on the future/ history has its eyes on us," which alludes to the song History Has Its Eyes on You, sung by George Washington in the play.
Secondly, when the poet read: "Everyone shall sit under their own vine, and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid," she referred to one of Washington's favourite passages in the Bible, which the character also sings about in the show.
Gorman told The Los Angeles Times the she had listened to Hamilton, as well as the soundtracks from Darkest Hour, The Crown and Lincoln, to get herself into "a historic and epic mind-set".
The poem in full
Here you can read Ms Gorman's remarkable words in full:
When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.
We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learnt that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken,
but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time 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.
And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine,
but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colours, 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.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
This effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust,
for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared it at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while once we asked, ‘How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?’ now we assert, ‘How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?’
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be:
A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change, our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the west.
We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realised revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country,
our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Updated: January 21, 2021 09:36 PM