In one of the most talked-about moments at Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s inauguration, poet Amanda Gorman summoned images dire and triumphant on Wednesday as she called out to the world “even as we grieved, we grew”.
Gorman, 22, is the youngest poet in US history to mark the transition of presidential power, offering a hopeful vision for a deeply divided country on Wednesday with her poem The Hill We Climb.
A Los Angeles resident, she joins the ranks of previous inaugural poets Robert Frost, Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Alexander.
“Being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it,” Gorman said, in a short poem that was greeted with a hail of critical acclaim on social media.
“We will not march back to what was. We move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole. Benevolent, but bold. Fierce and free.”
Speaking on the steps of the US Capitol just two weeks after a violent mob laid siege to the seat of American government with Confederate flags, pipe bombs and a noose, Gorman said Americans could rise above the hatred.
“While democracy can be temporarily delayed, it can never be permanently defeated,” Gorman said. “Let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left,” Gorman said. “We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.”
“The new dawn blooms as we free it,” said Gorman, who was named the first US National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017.
Mindful of the past, she wore earrings and a caged bird ring – a tribute to Angelou’s classic memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – given to her by Orpah Winfrey, a close friend of the late writer.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I,” Winfrey tweeted.
— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) January 20, 2021
Invited to the inauguration late last month by first lady Jill Biden, Gorman has read at official occasions before – including a July 4 celebration when she was backed by the Boston Pops Orchestra. She has also made clear her desire to appear at a future inaugural, in a much greater capacity, an ambition she stated firmly in her poem.
“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.”
John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama also had poets read at their inauguration.
Critical acclaim poured from across the country and the political spectrum, including the Republican strategist Lincoln Project and Stacey Abrams, the Democratic organiser and gubernatorial candidate from Georgia, who said, “Amanda Gorman’s message serves as an inspiration to us all.”
Singer Sheryl Crow tweeted: “If the future looks like inaugural poet laureate Amanda Gorman, we are in good shape. Wise and inspiring.”
If the future looks like inaugural poet laureate Amanda Gorman, we are in good shape. Wise and inspiring.
Our children learn from watching us and make it part of who they become. Be a model of compassion. ❤️#BeTheLight
— Sheryl Crow (@SherylCrow) January 20, 2021