Amanda Gorman Steals The Inaugural Show And Sounds The Power Of The Humanities

Monday, January 25, 2021 - 10:42

Michael T. Nietzel


That yellow coat. The puffed, red headband. Those gold hoop earrings and a caged-bird ring. As Amanda Gordman took the podium at Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday, she became an immediate fashion icon, vibrant in color and striking in her sleek, youthful elegance.

But then she spoke. And her thunder rolled. Gorman, chosen at age 18 to be the nation’s first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, recited “The Hill We Climb,” the poem she composed for the event. And a nation was transfixed, listening to the powerful words of a young Black woman who stood on stage to give a country scarred by domestic terrorism, stricken by a deadly pandemic and sundered by political division the words it needed for this day.

It was a message of hope and determined purpose, made all the more meaningful when you realize that Gorman composed portions of it on the very night that the Capitol was stormed and seized by a violent mob of American terrorists.

And yes we are far from polished

far from pristine


ut that doesn’t mean we are

striving to form a union that is perfect

We are striving to forge a union with purpose

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and

conditions of man

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us

but what stands before us...


Scripture tells us to envision

that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree

And no one shall make them afraid

If we’re to live up to our own time

Then victory won’t lie in the blade

But in all the bridges we’ve made

That is the promise to glade

The hill we climb

If only we dare

And then that passage that caught this moment in history:

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

Just 22, Gorman is the youngest poet ever to speak at a presidential inauguration, joining a distinguished group that includes Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams, Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco. A native of Los Angeles, she attended Harvard where she studied sociology. Already a published author, Gorman has two more books expected to be published soon. It was Jill Biden who discovered her work and invited her to speak at the inaugural.

Like President Biden, she has struggled since childhood with a speech impediment that in her case makes it difficult to pronounce certain sounds correctly. “I don’t look at my disability as a weakness,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be. When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds, when you have to be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience.”

Gorman’s stirring performance on Wednesday illustrated the power of words, the magic of language to capture the triumphs and the tragedies of our human condition. To explore our common history and grapple with our shared challenges.

And it put the humanities in a wonderful spotlight. After years of hearing about the “demise” of the humanities as a field of study, of despairing about their supposed “irrelevance” to the education today’s college students want, and of watching the steady elimination of humanities and arts majors across the country, Amanda Gorman’s five minutes of poetry reminded us why the serious study and evocation of the human interior is so edifying.

We’ve heard a lot about the Fauci effect, the recent increase in students applying to medical school because of admiration for Anthony Fauci. There’s also been a surge in law school applicants - a Ginsberg effect perhaps, as the nation focused like seldom before on the composition of the Supreme Court.

But Wednesday was a day for writers. The poets got their push. A Gorman effect is coming.

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