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The world of poetry has a new star. Amanda Gorman’s electrifying delivery of her poem The Hill We Climb at the inauguration of President Joe Biden earned the young writer plaudits from around the world and surely means that she now inherits the mantle of Maya Angelou.
At 22, Gorman is the youngest poet to read at the inauguration of a new president. Angelou’s famous poem And Still I Rise was referenced by Oprah Winfrey in her praise of the young writer. She wrote: ‘I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering – and so am I.”
Gorman’s reading was one of the highlights of a captivating and moving ceremony. Her poem was full of telling imagery and striking word play, as in the line: ‘We lay down our arms so that we can reach out our arms to one another’, and the alliterative passage:
‘Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.’
The land has always been important to America, from the days of the first settlers staking their claims to those travelling west during the Great Depression. Gorman acknowledged this, declaring:
‘With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.’
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Gorman studied sociology at Harvard. She became America’s first-ever national youth poet laureate in 2017. Like the new president, she had a speech impediment as a child but told the LA Times “I don’t look at my disability as a weakness. 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.”
Her delivery was powerful and owed something in its pauses and declamatory nature, and in her use of her hands, to the performance poet Sarah Kay. It certainly held the audience spellbound.
The poem is to be published in a special hardcover edition this spring by Penguin Young Readers with a print-run of 150,000 copies. In September the poem will also be included in Gorman’s debut poetry collection, entitled The Hill we Climb, which will be published by Viking Books for Young Readers. At the same time the publisher will also publish Gorman’s debut picture book Change Sings with illustrations by Loren Long.
There is no question: Gorman’s world is set to change – a star is born.