A literary star is born

Free Press wire reports | 1/21/2021, 6 p.m.
The country has a new president and a new literary star.
National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, 22, enthralls the crowd as she reads her poem of transcendence, “The Hill We Climb.” Photo by Patrick Semansky/Associated Press/Pool

The country has a new president and a new literary star.

In one of the inauguration’s most talked about moments, poet Amanda Gorman summoned images dire and triumphant Wednesday as she called out to the world “even as we grieved, we grew.”

The 22-year-old Ms. Gorman referenced everything from Biblical scripture to “Hamilton,” and at times echoed the oratory of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. With urgency and assertion, she began by asking “Where can we find light/In this never-ending shade?” and used her own poetry and life story as an answer.

The poem’s very title, “The Hill We Climb,” suggested both labor and transcendence.

“We did not feel prepared to be the heirs

Of such a terrifying hour.

But within it we’ve found the power

To author a new chapter,

To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.”

It was an extraordinary task for Ms. Gorman, who soon after finishing her poem helped inspire — along with Vice President Kamala Harris — the Twitter hashtag ”#BlackGirlMagic and was being praised by former President Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama among others.

Ms. Gorman is a native and resident of Los Angeles who studied sociology at Harvard University and became the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017. In interviews, she said she had a speech impediment as a child and enjoyed writing and reading aloud as a way to overcome it.

She is the youngest by far of the poets who have read at presidential inaugurations since President John F. Kennedy invited Robert Frost in 1961. Other predecessors including Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Alexander.

Mindful of the past, Ms. Gorman wore earrings and a caged bird ring — a tribute to the late Dr. Angelou’s classic memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” — given to her by Oprah Winfrey, a close friend of the late writer.

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I,” Ms. Winfrey tweeted.

Ms. Gorman told The Associated Press last week that she planned to combine a message of hope for President Biden’s inaugural without ignoring “the evidence of discord and division.” She had completed a little more than half of “The Hill We Climb” before Jan. 6 and the siege of the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionist supporters of then-President Trump.

“That day gave me a second wave of energy to finish the poem,” Ms. Gorman told the AP.

Ms. Gorman’s career is just beginning. Penguin Young Readers announced Wednesday that “The Hill We Climb” will be published in a special edition this spring. Two other books come out in September — the illustrated “Change Sings” and a volume of her inaugural poem and other works.