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Amanda Gorman becomes the youngest Inaugural poet with reading of ‘The Hill We Climb’ at Biden’s swearing-in

Amanda Gorman can officially add being the youngest Inaugural poet to her growing list of accolades.

The 22-year-old read a fiery and impassioned poem titled “The Hill We Climb” following the swearing-in of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday. The performance put her in league with other poets who have spoken at the inauguration of a president since John F. Kennedy invited Robert Frost to speak in 1961. Her predecessors include the likes of Maya Angelou, Miller Williams and Elizabeth Alexander. 

Gorman noted to The Associated Press in a recent interview that she hoped to share a message of hope and unity to usher in Biden’s presidency. However, it was important to her to also highlight the division the country faces, particularly in light of the riots that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. 

“That day gave me a second wave of energy to finish the poem,” Gorman told the outlet prior to the inauguration. 

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American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. 

American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. 
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

She explained that she was halfway through the poem prior to Jan. 6, but finished it later that night. On Wednesday, her reference to the riots was unmistakable. 

“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed,

It can never be permanently defeated,” she read.

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In addition to being the youngest Inaugural poet, having been personally invited to the event by first lady Dr. Jill Biden, the resident of Los Angeles is also the first National Youth Poet Laureate. 

Gorman’s career is just beginning. Her first two books come out later this year — the picture story “Change Things” and a bound edition of her inaugural poem. Ceremonial works are often quickly forgotten, but Angelou’s “On the Pulse Of the Morning,” which she read at the 1993 inauguration of President Clinton, went on to sell more than 1 million copies as a book.

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Although she previously spoke at a July 4 celebration where she was backed by the Boston Pops Orchestra, The New York Times reports that Biden’s inauguration marked her first time performing her work for a televised audience that likely numbered in the tens of millions. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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