Amanda Gorman “screamed and danced her head off” when she found out she had been chosen to read one of her poems at Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony.
At the age of 22, the Los Angeles-born writer and performer is the youngest poet to perform at a presidential inauguration.
She told the BBC’s World Service she felt “excitement, joy, honour and humility” when she was asked to take part in the ceremony, “and also at the same time terror”.
Her poem, The Hill We Climb, is a new composition she said she hoped would “speak to the moment” and “do this time justice”.
“I really wanted to use my words to be a point of unity and collaboration and togetherness,” she told the World Service’s Newshour programme before the ceremony.
“I think it’s about a new chapter in the United States, about the future, and doing that through the elegance and beauty of words.”
Gorman completed her poem on 6 January, the day the Capitol in Washington DC was stormed by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
The poet wore a mask as she arrived at Wednesday’s ceremony. Her poem speaks of “a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it” and “destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy”.
It continues: “This effort very nearly succeeded/But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”
She told the New York Times: “Now more than ever, the United States needs an inaugural poem. We have to confront these realities if we’re going to move forward.”
Born in LA in 1998, Gorman had a speech impediment as a child – an affliction she shares with America’s new president.
“It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be,” she said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.Gorman became LA’s youth poet laureate at 16. Three years later, while studying sociology at Harvard, she became the first national youth poet laureate.
She published her first book, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, in 2015 and will publish a picture book, Change Sings, later this year. She follows in the footsteps of Maya Angelou, Richard Blanco and Robert Frost, who are among the five poets to have performed at previous presidential inaugurations.
When Amanda Gorman was asked to write a poem for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, she didn’t know where to begin. The nation has just been through a bitter election. Americans are as divided as ever. And the pandemic continues to rage.
“It was really daunting to begin the poem because you don’t even really know the entry point in which to step into the murk,” she said in an interview Monday with NPR’s Steve Inskeep.
Gorman started by doing the same thing she always does — doing her research. She steeped herself in the literature of past inaugural poets. She looked to orators from throughout history who have spoken not just about a divided America, but also a united America. She read Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, even Winston Churchill.