President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris ostensibly were the main attractions on Inauguration Day. But Amanda Gorman stole the show with her reading of uplifting poem “The Hill We Climb,” becoming an overnight media and internet star.
The work by Gorman, 22, the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration, focused on themes of unity and hope amid the pandemic and the surreal political violence of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. “We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one,” reads one of her poem’s lines.
The 710-word “The Hill We Climb” poem took Gorman nearly six minutes to read. Within a few hours, a DJ at Seattle radio station KEXP had set the poem to music. (Read the full text of the poem here.)
After her poem reading at the Biden inauguration, Gorman had gained more than 1.1 million followers on Twitter and more than 2 million on Instagram in less than 24 hours. (She previously had less than 100,000 on Twitter and less than 45,000 in Instagram.)
“It’s not often that you wake up on a morning feeling like this,” Gorman, said Thursday in a live interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The L.A. native acknowledged that she was nervous about her appearance: “I had not been expecting, at 22, that they would trust me with such an honor… I was honestly scared of writing such a poem. I wasn’t sure that I could even do it justice, but I’m so glad that I put my best foot forward and did it.”
Gorman’s two forthcoming hardcover books, poetry collection “The Hill We Climb” and illustrated kids’ book “Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem,” quickly rose to the No. 1 and 2 spots, respectively, on Amazon’s best-selling books list, where they remained as of Thursday morning. Both are set to be published in September by Penguin Random House. She expressed her gratitude in a tweet:
“I AM ON THE FLOOR MY BOOKS ARE #1 & #2 ON AMAZON AFTER 1 DAY! Thank you so much to everyone for supporting me and my words. As Yeats put it: ‘For words alone are certain good: Sing, then,'” she wrote Wednesday evening.
Among those fêting Gorman was entertainment mogul Oprah, who tweeted, “I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman ! Maya Angelou is cheering — and so am I.”
At the inauguration, Gorman wore a ring with a caged bird — a gift from Oprah — in a nod to Angelou’s poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which Angelou had read at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. Gorman, who was named the U.S.’s first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, was selected to read at the inauguration by first lady Dr. Jill Biden.
Gorman has said the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob was the key point of reference for her inaugural poem.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper that aired Wednesday night, she said, “We’ve seen over the past few years the ways in which the power of words has been violated and misappropriated. And what I wanted to do was to kind of reclaim poetry as that site in which we can re-purify, re-sanctify not only the Capitol building that we saw violated, but the power of words, and to invest that in the highest office of the land.”
Gorman revealed that she was “concerned” about the “brave enough to be it” wording in the last lines of “The Hill We Climb” (“For there is always light / If only we’re brave enough to see it / If only we’re brave enough to be it”).
“I was kind of deliberating between ‘see it,’ ‘be it,’ ‘free it,’ and then I said, you know what — we need all of these things at once,” she told Cooper. “We need that cacophony. We need to realize that hope isn’t something that we ask of others. It’s something that we have to demand from ourselves, and that’s what I wanted the poem to end on.” Cooper’s response to the young wordsmith: “Wow, you’re awesome.”
Gorman’s upcoming media appearances include an interview on CBS’s “The Late Late Show With James Corden” to air Thursday, Jan. 21 (watch the interview here).
Gorman, who is repped by WME, was encouraged by her mother, an English teacher, to begin writing poems and says she turned to the craft as part of coping with a speech impediment. She joined WriteGirl, an L.A.-based nonprofit that helps empower teen girls through creative writing, at the age of 14. In 2015, Gorman published her first book of poetry, “The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough.”
In 2020, Gorman graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in sociology. Last May, she appeared in John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” YouTube series in a virtual graduation episode alongside Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart, Steven Spielberg and activist and Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, in which she performed one of her works.