Amanda Gorman, the first youth poet laureate of the United States, garnered national recognition after performing her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in history. Despite her young age, Gorman’s accomplishments are innumerable. Now 22, she was named the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles at just 16, a year before publishing her book The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough. When expressing herself through writing wasn’t enough, Gorman began putting her poems into spoken word, utilizing the expressive and emotional style seen at her performance at the Capitol.
“The Hill We Climb,” which is now far and away Gorman’s most famous piece, prominently features the themes of hope and unity expected of the transfer of political power, without ignoring the reality of the world that contrasts President Biden’s optimistic platform. Her subversion of an all too common disconnect from reality is evident in her somewhat surprising mention of the insurrection at the Capitol. Gorman would also state in interviews that beyond those few lines, the breach of the Capitol drove her to drastically change and build upon her poem, as she felt a responsibility to respond to the act of terrorism.
The poem also draws upon Gorman’s identity as a Black woman descended from enslaved peoples, exposing this country’s flawed foundation while offering the contrasting example of her own aspirations despite her ancestors’ oppression. The African diaspora clearly is a very important part of her identity and connects to her discussion and challenge of the prevalence of racism.
At its core, Gorman’s poem presents America as unfinished rather than broken, suggesting a path forward of completing as opposed to fixing. Beyond the unique and surprising ideas tackled in the actual words, her contemporary delivery of “The Hill We Climb” is perhaps what spoke the most to many. While previous inaugural poets restricted their movements to a subtle turning of the page, Gorman’s combination of emboldened gesticulation, silver-tongued wordplay, and unabashed emotion is what truly gave life to the performance. In this way, Gorman rose to the occasion while simultaneously challenging expectations, solidifying herself as one of the greats at an unprecedentedly young age.