Amanda Gorman has become at the age of 22 the youngest poet to participate in the inauguration ceremony of a president of the United States. But this milestone is anecdotal compared to what he actually achieved with The Hill We Climb ("The hill we climbed"), the text he recited on Wednesday in the first minutes of Joe Biden's term. It was an eloquent portrait, chiseled with the cadence of words, that drew the divided country that has left the fury of Donald Trump in its wake. A testimony about the light and hope that come to those forgotten by the Republican president, people like herself: an African American raised by a single mother in a low-income multicultural neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she was born.
In New York, Gorman was awarded in 2017, when she was 19 years old, with the first prize National Youth Poet, delivered by the Urban World organization, focused on the literary and artistic work of young people. Originally from the southern Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, she was recognized for her work as an activist in her community, where she organized a tour of county bookstores and where she teaches creative writing classes for young people like her.
The author is the daughter of a sixth grade teacher in Watts, a disadvantaged neighborhood with a black and Latino majority in the south of that Californian city. “My origin has given me the value of education. Not only for me, but for others … It has helped me to take my training to another level ”, he said about his upbringing. Only 3% of Watts residents have higher education.
The young woman has said that she always begins her courses by asking two questions to her students in the poetry workshops: “Who has carried you on their shoulders? What is it that moves you? Then, share the three sentences that make up the mantra that is repeated every time she is about to recite her poetry: "I am the daughter of black writers / Who descended from freedom fighters / Who broke their chains and changed the world."
"Poetry in a weapon, an instrument for social change," he told CBS on Wednesday morning. His verses are full of the problems that plague his generation, the marginalization of minorities, climate change, the lack of economic equality or racism. His style is that of someone willing to overcome obstacles.
He has recognized that he has some speech difficulties, like Biden, and that in his recitals he always has problems with the diction of the r. To practice, he rehearsed the song over and over again Aaron Burr, Sir, full of r's, from the hit musical Hamilton, based on the life of one of America's founding fathers. As a wink, he inserted a reference to the Broadway montage in his poem for Wednesday. He concluded that work on the night of the 6th, after seeing the assault on Congress in horror. "In this truth, in this fact we trust / Because while we have our eyes on the future / History has its eyes on us," he writes.
Gorman became a national star as soon as his participation in Biden's inauguration was confirmed. He only has a book of poems, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough ("He for whom food is not enough"), self-published in 2015. The next will be an illustrated one for children, whom he wants to remind that "they have the power to transform the world." The volume will be released in September, but the pre-sale is already in high demand for copies after Wednesday's performance.
Gorman joins a handful of poets who have embellished the crude forms of power with words. In 1961, Robert Frost did it for John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic to enter the White House — Biden is the second. Frost recited a work of his by heart, forced by the strong winds that prevented him from reading the text he wrote for the occasion at the lectern.
The young Californian follows in the wake of Maya Angelou, who in 1993 read In the pulse of a morning exactly 27 years ago, during the inauguration of Bill Clinton. Gorman was also inspired by Richard Blanco and Elizabeth Alexander's texts of Obama-era ceremonies.
In one of the many interviews she has given in her meteoric rise, the poet and activist recounted her first political memory. It was not a rally or protest. It was a moment of her childhood in which her mother forced her to memorize the Miranda Warning, the warning that the police must give to any detainee and in which, among others, the rights to remain silent and to speak with a attorney. “My mom wanted to make sure that I was prepared to grow up black in this country. That was my first awakening to the political climate in which we lived, ”he replied.
And that is the country that he digested for his work, with an eye to the future. "We have learned that tranquility is not always peace / In the norms and notions of what is fair is not always justice," he recited at the beginning of his speech, in a reflection of the will for change that many saw represented in this young African American 22-year-old Californian.
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