How Amanda Gorman Became the Youngest Inaugural Poet in U.S. History


Sophie Folger, Staff Writer

On January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman became a household name. Overshadowing President Biden’s inaugural address and J. Lo’s medley as the most talked about inauguration performance, Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” inspired hope in the 40 million Americans across the country who were watching from home. In the days following the inauguration, Gorman’s upcoming poetry books became bestsellers, she signed a management contract, and she was a guest on numerous popular talk shows, including The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and The Late Late Show with James Corden. Perhaps one of her most impressive feats, Amanda Gorman became the first ever poet to perform at the Super Bowl on Feb. 7. Being hosted at the Super Bowl exhibits the magnitude of her popularity since Biden’s inauguration, which leaves us all asking: how did she get to be where she is? Upon closer examination of her background, upbringing, and inspirations, it becomes clear that Amanda Gorman is exactly what America needs right now.

Gorman was born in Los Angeles in 1998. She and her two siblings were raised by a single mother, a middle school English teacher. She said, “Having a mom who is a teacher had a huge impact on me.” As a child, she developed a passion for language and poetry, often writing in journals on the playground at school. Gorman attributes her gifted writing to a speech impediment she had in her youth. “I don’t look at my disability as a weakness,” she said in an interview. “It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be. 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.”

Gorman’s work in activism began during her adolescence. Inspired by one of Malala Yousafzai’s speeches, she became a United Nations youth delegate in 2013. Only a year later, at the age of 16, she became the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles. 

Gorman spent two years writing her 2015 poetry book, The One for Whom Food is Not Enough. She founded One Pen One Page in 2016, a free creative writing program for underserved youth. The following year she was named the first youth poet laureate of the United States. Gorman attended Harvard University, graduating cum laude with a degree in sociology in 2020. 

This year, Amanda Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. She performed her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at president Biden’s inauguration. The theme of the inauguration, “America United,” presented a unique challenge for Gorman: writing a unifying poem during a time of deep divisions. She decided to approach it with honesty.“In my poem, I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal,” she said. “It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.” Many agree that she accomplished her goals beautifully, reciting a poem that exemplified both integrity and unity.  

“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 form a union with purpose

To compose a country committed to all culture, colors, characters and conditions of man

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us

but what stands before us”

–Amanda Gorman, excerpt from “The Hill We Climb”

On January 6th, when Trump supporters started an insurrection at the US Capitol, The Hill We Climb was only halfway finished. That same day, she wrote a few lines addressing the insurrection:

“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.”

–Amanda Gorman, excerpt from “The Hill We Climb”

At Super Bowl LV on February 7, Gorman read a poem she had written honoring the immensely impactful work of three individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Titled “Chorus of the Captains,” the piece was pre-recorded and played right before the coin toss at the pregame show.

“Today we honor our three captains

For their actions and impact in

a time of uncertainty and need.

They’ve taken the lead,

Exceeding all expectations and limitations,

Uplifting their communities and neighbors

As leaders, healers, and educators.”

–Amanda Gorman, excerpt from “Chorus of Captains”

Gorman inspired English teachers across the country, including English teachers at PCS, to use her poem for a variety of class lessons. For instance, Ms. Roth taught a lesson on semantic change to the AP Lang class using Gorman’s poem, the 9th graders discussed the poem while learning about Poetry Out Loud, and the poem appeared in Ms. Dunn’s lesson on poetry analysis for her 7th grade classes, highlighting figurative language and poetic devices. As demonstrated by our own school’s use of her work, Amanda Gorman’s exceptional poetic ability has resonated deeply with the population and her work will likely remain a part of school curriculums for years to come. 

To watch Amanda Gorman’s recent performances, click the links below: 

“The Hill We Climb” – Jan 20, 2021 Biden Inauguration

“Chorus of Captains” – Feb 7, 2021 Super Bowl LV