Amanda Gorman — a self-described “skinny black girl” with a speech impediment raised by a single mom in LA — is the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate, is the youngest poet ever to read at a President’s inauguration, and is the only poet to recite at a Super Bowl. This young poet has been propelled in the spotlight recently, but this article shows her rise has been a long time in the making.
Amanda S. C. Gorman was born in Los Angeles, California in 1998. Her mother — a 6th grade English teacher — raised Amanda and her two siblings by herself. In an interview with Jenna Bush Hager, Gorman describes being introduced to Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine in third grade, falling in love with the metaphors, and claiming: “That’s what I want to do with my life.” Gorman has an auditory processing disorder, is hypersensitive to sound, and has a speech impediment. However, by all accounts, Gorman not only refuses to let these issues stop her, but she sees them as gifts. In the same interview with Jenna Bush Hager, Gorman describes how she hears a “strong, self-assured voice” whenever she reads a text, and thus the “power of her inner voice” transcends that which people hear. Later in a Ted Talk, Gorman further asserts this point, saying “If I choose not to speak out of fear, then there’s no one that my silence is standing for.”
In 2014, at 16 years old, Gorman was named the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles. A year later, she published the poetry book The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough. As a senior in 2016, Gorman established the nonprofit organization One Pen One Page, which is a poetry workshop group “dedicated to elevating the voices and stories of young people.” These three achievements helped Gorman receive a Milken Family Foundation college scholarship to study sociology at Harvard. In her freshman year at Harvard, she wrote a tribute for black athletes for Nike, authored two children’s picture books, opened the literary season for the Library of Congress, and was named the National Youth Poet Laureate in April. In May 2020, Gorman met virtually with Oprah Winfrey and issued a virtual commencement speech to those who could not attend graduations.
It was Jill Biden who originally recommended that Gorman read at her husband’s inauguration. The Biden team agreed, and gave her several months to prepare her now famous work, The Hill We Climb. The poem’s central theme is unity after this historically destructive time in America, expressed by the motif of climbing a hill. The reception of her poem was overwhelming. Numerous late night hosts rushed to put her in prime time spots, Michelle Obama interviewed her for Time Magazine, and Hillary Clinton even tweeted that she would support Gorman’s purported bid for president in 2036. On February 7th, Gorman recited a poem on a pre-shot video before the Super Bowl, where she praises three front line workers for their bravery and sacrifices.
In poetry workshops and speeches, Gorman often asks her audience: Whose shoulders do you stand on? Gorman’s answer to this question has become her mantra, which she repeats to herself before every poetry performance: I’m the daughter of black writers. We’re descended from freedom fighters who broke through chains and changed the world. They call me.