To be frank – the last year has been utter chaos, and things worth celebrating have been far and few between. However, one thing is sure: Amanda Gorman’s emergence on a national stage was far beyond it. It was breathtaking, elegant, and nothing short of absolutely beautiful.
For poetry fans, watching a spoken poetry performance during the inauguration was worth something louder than our usual celebration of snaps, for which she was only the 6th one to do it. If you’re a citizen who’s angry at the state of the world, hearing her work should make you hopeful. Hopeful was a word I chose carefully because it can be hard to be hopeful in a pandemic, with the economy is the worst it’s been since the Great Depression and in which the country seems the most divided in my lifetime.
Gorman recognized the importance of race and gender during her poem, citing that:
“We the successors of a country and a time
where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one.”
But Gorman stood firm, and she spoke with resistance against hatred and determination towards unity. Gorman represents an entire generation that is ready to overcome the country’s most significant problems and reconcile.
She’s a recent Harvard graduate and conquered a speech impediment on the way. Her premature birth eventually led to an auditory processing disorder, which made it difficult to understand speech. She said in an interview with the Harvard Crimson in 2018 that she used a “Hamilton” song to help beat the impediment and wore her grandmother’s necklace as what she describes as a “literary talisman.”
And, of course, she uses writing to help navigate speech.
Deservingly so, her books soared to #1 and #2 on the Amazon bestsellers list. The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, along with Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem in which she co-authored, are getting appreciation and recognition.
Gorman finished the poem the night of the attempted insurrection on the Capitol Building on January 6th, 14 days before the inauguration. The mission was to bring the country together to embark on a new chapter.
It was initially Jill Biden’s, the First Lady, idea after seeing Gorman perform a reading at the Liberty Congress. Gorman accepted immediately and felt appreciated but pressured at the same time. Gorman began to research those who came before her in the civil rights era, such as the late, great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr and Abraham Lincoln. Gorman acknowledges her roots and continues to lay and paint the bricks of colored poets.
Gorman was selected to read her work at the inauguration because of her incredible work and shared adversity with President Joe Biden. They both overcame speech impediments and let it motivate them to overcome and inspire them to connect with those who share the same troubles. Biden struggles with a stutter, so it connects them both, which is a beautiful thing.
Gorman is an icon for writers, women, and especially black women for eternity. When America seems broken and cut-throat towards neighbors with differing opinions – Gorman represents a light. She brings hope. She brings unity. And for the first time in a while – she brings something worth celebrating no matter what political affiliation you are.
The main idea of her poem, The Hills We Climb, is that we, the citizens, must be ready to acknowledge change and be prepared to welcome the light. Gorman ends her performance stating:
“For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
The shade is ending, and light is just around the corner. A better, more United States of America is coming.
We have to be present, ready to take it, and willing to move forward.