By Jasmyn M. ’23
A few short months ago, Amanda Gorman had never performed in front of a televised audience. However, her name is unfamiliar to few today. She skyrocketed to one of the most prominent poets in the world when the new First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, personally selected her for the honor of performing at the inauguration.
Gorman made history as the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, reciting her poem “The Hill We Climb,” at the age of twenty-two. At first, she began writing the poem steadily a few lines per day. She was about halfway through the poem on January 6th when rioters broke into the U.S. Capitol during an ongoing session of Congress. That day, she stayed up late into the night to finish the poem, adding verses about the catastrophic scene that unfolded at the Capitol that day. She also recited her poem “Chorus of the Captains” at Super Bowl LV, making history once again as the first person ever to recite poetry at the event.
Gorman was born in 1998 in Los Angeles and was raised by her single mother, Joan Wicks, a middle school English teacher. Her mother was a big inspiration for Gorman. Wicks made sure she did her best to prepare her daughter for growing up as a Black female in America and make her aware of the political climate she was stepping into. Gorman has two siblings, one of whom is her twin. She loved to read and write from a very young age and she always knew she was going to do something creative when she grew up. She says that she was not very popular when she was younger, getting along with her teachers better than she did with her classmates.
Gorman has called early attempts at writing being “very Anne of Green Gables”, until she discovered the work of Toni Morrison in middle school, when: she “realized then that stories could actually be about people who look like me.”
Gorman was born with speech apraxia which made it difficult for her to pronounce R’s. She got around this by practicing rapping the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” from Hamilton because it has a lot of R’s. However, Gorman says she does not “look at [her] disability as a weakness.” She claims, “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 became the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at age 16 in 2014, got a scholarship to Harvard, and graduated cum laude in 2020. In 2017, the artist became the first National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, a title held in the United States by a teenager who demonstrates artistic success, is committed to social justice, and is an active advocate and leader. The fight against social injustice motivates the meaning behind Gorman’s poetry. Her mission is to “speak to both the world’s problems and its solutions, as well as the microcosms of conflict inside [her]self.”
Gorman is involved in multiple organizations. For example, she founded One Pen One Page, an organization that provides creative writing education and publishing opportunities for underprivileged youth. Gorman had been teaching creative writing workshops when she was fifteen and received funding from a program to add a reading rewards initiative, leadership summit, and an online blog to those workshops. The program grew, and One Pen One Page was born. Gorman’s mother was again the inspiration for her accomplishment; Gorman says, “it was after seeing the role of literacy in the lives of students of color that I realized how critical it was.” She is also the youngest board member of 826 National, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students from the ages of 6–18 improve their writing skills, creative and expository.
Amanda Gorman’s long list of accomplishments may leave you wondering: is there anything she has not yet done? Gorman has big plans for the future. She announced her intention to run for president in 2036, which is the first election cycle for which she will be eligible. She has been dreaming about running for president ever since her sixth-grade teacher joked about the prospect.
“Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.” – Amanda Gorman