Poet Amanda Gorman Has Been Chosen To Read At The Inauguration Of President-Elect Joe Biden

At age 22, the artist 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.

The Los Angeles resident has written for everything from a 4 July celebration featuring the Boston Pops Orchestra to the inauguration at Harvard University, her alma mater, of school president Larry Bacow.

“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,” Gorman told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

When she reads next Wednesday, she will be continuing a tradition for Democratic presidents that includes such celebrated poets as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. 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 said.

Gorman 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 says she will be meeting the Bidens for the first time. The Bidens, apparently, are already fans: Gorman says the inaugural officials told her she had been recommended by the incoming first lady, Jill Biden.

She is calling her inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb”, and has so far declined to preview any lines. Gorman says she was not given specific instructions on what to write, but was encouraged to emphasise unity and hope over “denigrating anyone” or declaring “ding, dong, the witch is dead” over the departure of President Donald Trump.

The insurrection last week of the US Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the election was a challenge for keeping a positive tone, but also an inspiration. Gorman said she has been given five minutes to read on Inauguration Day, and that before what she described during an interview as “the Confederate insurrection” of 6 January, she had only written about three and a half minutes worth.

The final length runs 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 the storming of the Capitol, but will “touch” upon it. Last week’s events did not upend the poem she had been working on, she said, because they didn’t surprise her.

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

In other writings, Gorman has honoured her ancestors, acknowledged and revelled 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 US 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, reading:

Tyrants fear the poet.

Now that we know it

we can’t blow it.

We owe it

to show it

not slow it

Gorman has rare status as a poet, and has dreams of other ceremonies. She would love to read at the 2028 Olympics, scheduled to be held in Los Angele. In 2037, she wouldn’t mind finding herself in an even more special position at the presidential inauguration as the new chief executive.

“I’m going to tell Biden that I’ll be back,” she said with a laugh.

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