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A girl in a yellow jacket passionately receiting a poem to an audience
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman speaks at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC.” (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
8 Things to Know About Amanda Gorman

Meet the 22-year-old poet everyone is talking about

By Mackenzie Carro
From the Issue

(Photo By Sthanlee B. Mirador/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

On Wednesday, January 20, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office. At the inaugural ceremony, Amanda Gorman, 22, recited a poem that she wrote. It is called “The Hill We Climb.” Since then, a video of her powerful performance has gone viral. People all over the world have been talking about her message of unity, hope, and change.  

Here are eight things to know about this inspiring young poet. 

1. Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in American history.

Inviting a poet to perform at the inaugural ceremony is a tradition. It began with President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Since then, three other presidents have invited poets to read a poem at their inaugurations. Past inaugural poets include Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.  

2. She has a speech impediment.

That means it’s hard for Gorman to say certain letters of the alphabet. The letter r is especially hard for her. As a kid, Gorman began writing poetry to help her find her voice. Then in high school, she began reciting her poetry out loud. This helped her improve her speech. She says singing songs from one of her favorite musicals, Hamilton!, also helped!

(Erin Schaff/The New York Times/Redux)

Amanda Gorman, who at 22 is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, reads her poem during the ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. Gorman, who lives in Los Angeles, was brought to the Inaugural Committee's attention by first lady Jill Biden, who saw her recite a poem at the Library of Congress. 

3. She did a lot of research before writing “The Hill We Climb.”

Gorman studied speeches by past leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. In a radio interview, Gorman said these speeches helped her understand how words “can be used for good.”

4. In 2017, she was named the nation’s first ever National Youth Poet Laureate.

A National Youth Poet Laureate is the winner of a national competition that recognizes young poets for their talent and the meaning of their work. As a poet laureate, Gorman has recited her poems at the Library of Congress and at special events. She has also appeared on television programs.

For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it—if only we are brave enough to be it. —“The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

5. She has written two books.

One is a children’s book called Change Sings. The other is a book of her poetry called The Hill We Climb. Both will come out in September 2021.

6. She’s an activist.

Many of Gorman’s poems talk about racism and other important issues. She believes that poetry can be a tool used for change.

(Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages) via AP Images

Amanda Gorman speaks at Porter's Third Annual Incredible Women Gala with Universal Pictures Chairman, Donna Langley in association with Estée Lauder and in honor of Vital Voices on Tuesday October 9, 2018 at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles, CA. 

7. She has won several awards from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. 

These awards were founded in 1923. Their goal is to honor the talent and creativity of teens across the country. In 2015 and 2016, Gorman won several regional awards in the competition. In 2016, she won the national Silver Medal for Novel Writing.

8. She wants to be president one day.

In 2017, Gorman told The New York Times that she wants to run for president in 2036. The idea came from a conversation with a teacher. She included this goal in her inaugural poem. See if you can find it!

Discussion questions:

  1. Why do you think poets are invited to speak at inaugural ceremonies?
  2. Gorman began reciting her poetry out loud to improve her speech. What do you think that says about her character?
  3. Gorman says she studied speeches of past leaders to learn how words “can be used for good.” What do you think she means by that?
  4. Do you agree with Gorman that poetry can be a tool for change? Why or why not?
  5. What else would you like to know about Gorman? Write down three questions you have for her, then see if you can find the answers online!
Ideas for Teaching About Amanda Gorman and “The Hill We Climb”

Introduce the Poet

  • Ask students if any of them watched the inauguration ceremony on January 20 and saw poet Amanda Gorman reciting a poem she wrote for the event. If so, what were their impressions and feelings while watching?
 
  1. Poets might be invited to speak at inaugural ceremonies to offer words of inspiration to the incoming president and vice president, as well as all Americans. A poem can express important messages, ideas, and emotions in unique ways. Inviting a poet also shows that we value poetry. 
  2. Students might suggest that this shows Gorman is determined. She found a creative way to deal with her speech impediment.
  3. Answers will vary.
  4. Answers will vary.
  5. Answers will vary.

Watch/Listen/Read

  • Ask: Why do you think the title of the poem is “The Hill We Climb”? What do you predict the poem will be about? 
  • Show students this video from ABC News of Gorman reciting her poem at the inauguration. (Note that the video starts with an ad.)
  • Because the poem is long and will likely be difficult for younger readers to understand, you might focus on excerpts of it, as suggested in the discussion questions below. Encourage them to pay attention to the thoughts and feelings the poem evokes for them, and not to worry if they don’t understand all of it.

Discuss

  • Watch Gorman as she recites the beginning of the poem, up until the words “only to find herself reciting for one.” (0:00-1:15) What do you notice? What words, lines, rhymes or rhythms stand out to you? What do you think Gorman’s voice and body language add to the poem? (Answers will vary.)
  • What does the poet tell you about herself in the poem? Why do you think she includes this? (She says she is “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother.” She could dream of being president yet finds herself reciting a poem for one. She might include this to tell the audience who she is, to show what is possible and the progress America has already made, and to reflect on how she uses her talent. It shows she’s proud of who she is.)
  • Watch Gorman as she recites the lines starting with “To compose a country . . .” until “we must first put our differences aside.” (1:30-1:53) What message do you think these lines have? (Students might suggest that our country is made up of all different kinds of people, but we have to look beyond our differences to move ahead and become a better country.)
  • Watch the end of the poem, starting with the line “So let us leave behind a country better than the one . . .” (4:41-5:40) What are your thoughts about this part? What is its tone, or feeling? Do you have a favorite line or two from this section? What do you like about them? (Answers will vary. Students might suggest that the tone is hopeful because these lines are about becoming better as a country. It is also rousing. They might remark on the repetition of “We will rise” and variations of it. They might note that the last two lines are almost the same, urging us to be brave enough to see the “light,” or what we could become.)
  • Now that you’ve studied the poem, why do you think the title is “The Hill We Climb”? Has your answer changed from before reading? What might the hill stand for? What might be at the top of the hill? Do you think the title is hopeful? Explain. (Students might suggest that the hill stands for difficult times we face. At the top of the hill might be better times–but we have to “climb,” or make an effort, to get there.)  

Extend

  • Write! Have students brainstorm messages they would like to share with President Joe Biden as he starts his term. What do they hope he will accomplish for our country? What do they think our country needs? Then invite them to turn their messages into poems.
  • Perform! Have students take turns reciting for the class the favorite lines they chose in the discussion question above. Ask them to think about how they can show the meaning of the lines in their voices and body language. Which words will they emphasize? What might they say louder or softer?