A photograph of Amanda Gorman reading at Joe Biden's inauguration

The Hill We Climb: Amanda Gorman performs at Joe Biden's inauguration

The inauguration of Joe Biden was always going to be a charged event: just days before, thousands of rioters stormed Capitol Hill, and extra security measures were put in place alongside the oddity of Covid social distancing. And yet, in the end, it was a poet who stole the show: 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate, who managed to capture the turbulence and hope in the air with her poem, The Hill We Climb.

This year, Penguin publishing house Vintage will publish a special edition of the inaugural poem, followed by Gorman’s breakout collection, The Hill We Climb and Other Poems and a forthcoming children's book titled Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem will be published by Puffin.

Who is Amanda Gorman, and how long has she been a poet?

Gorman is a 22-year-old poet and activist who has been campaigning for the importance of youth writing since her teens. Born in Los Angeles, and raised by her English teacher mother, Gorman grew up with a speech impediment, which she told CBS she has only recently overcome – with the help of repeatedly rapping 'Aaron Burr, Sir', from the musical Hamilton. When she was 16, Gorman was chosen as the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles.

Since then, Gorman has read her poetry on MTV, written tributes for Black athletes and landed a deal to write two children’s books. Last year, Gorman graduated from Harvard with a degree in sociology.

How was she chosen to perform at Joe Biden’s inauguration?

First Lady Jill Biden became aware of Gorman’s talents after she saw a video of her performing at the Library of Congress. Like Gorman, President Biden has also overcome a speech impediment.

What was Gorman’s inauguration poem about?

Gorman wrote the poem she performed at the inauguration, something she said she found very daunting. “I had this huge thing, probably one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my career,” she said in an interview with the New York Times. “It was like, if I try to climb this mountain all at once, I’m just going to pass out.” The poem was largely written, however, when the events of 6 January took place, and pro-Trump rioters stormed the halls of Congress – something that proved galvanising for Gorman’s writing process. She stayed up late into the night writing extra verses to reflect on the dystopian scenes at the heart of Washington:

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.

There’s also a couple of winks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical in Gorman’s poem: first, the reference to the scripture mentioned in Washington’s farewell address song, 'One Last Time': "Like the scripture says: ‘Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree – And no one shall make them afraid.’ I want to sit under my own vine and fig tree." Gorman also uses the refrain "history has it’s eyes on me / you", which harks back to Miranda’s song 'History Has Its Eyes on You'. Miranda, it should be said, was as dazzled as everyone else watching. "You were perfect. Perfectly written, perfectly delivered. Every bit of it. Brava!" he tweeted to the poet.

He wasn’t alone – Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Malala Yousafzai were among those thousands finding inspiration in Gorman’s performance.

What can we expect from Gorman next?

Within a day of the inauguration both of Gorman’s yet-to-be-released books, Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem and The Hill We Climb, her first ever poetry collection, went to the top two bestseller slots on Amazon. She tweeted at the time: “For words alone are certain good: Sing, then”.

Gorman's breakout collection will reveal "an energizing and unforgettable new voice in poetry", while Change Sings is a picture book, with illustrations from bestselling illustrator Loren Long, that encourages everybody to use their abilities to make a difference.

But before then, Gorman peformed at the Super Bowl on Sunday.

When will her poetry be available to buy?

The Hill We Climb will be published as a poem on 30 March, and Gorman’s collection of the same name will be out on 21 September. Both are available to pre-order now.

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