It's not easy stealing the spotlight when you're sharing the stage with the likes of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama (to say nothing of Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez). But that's exactly what 22-year-old Inaugural youth poet Amanda Gorman did, as she summoned images dire and triumphant Wednesday, calling out to the world that “even as we grieved, we grew."
Across social media Gorman's name exploded as her performance was applauded by a legion of new fans.
"Amanda Gorman's words were spectacular. Her delivery was mesmerizing. Brava," wrote one user.
"Outstanding poem! Amanda Gorman IS the future of this country," wrote another Twitter user.
And yet one more Twitter user wrote, "OMG! Amanda Gorman was astounding. Even my 15 year old granddaughter put down her cell phone & listened to the entire poem intently."
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In language referencing Biblical scripture and at times echoing the oratory of John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Gorman read with passion and urgency as 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."
Gorman is the youngest by far of the poets who have read at presidential inaugurations since Kennedy invited Robert Frost in 1961, with other predecessors including Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Alexander.
A native and resident of Los Angeles and the country's first National Youth Poet Laureate, Gorman told The Associated Press last week that she planned to combine a message of hope for President Joseph 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 supporters of then-President Donald Trump,
“That day gave me a second wave of energy to finish the poem,” Gorman said after the riot. She did not mention Jan. 6 specifically, but her reference 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 said on stage.
Invited to the inaugural late last month by first lady Jill Biden, Gorman has read at official occasions before — including a July 4 celebration when she was backed by the Boston Pops Orchestra.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.