Amanda Gorman gained international fame after reading her poem “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration. At just 22 years old, she becoming the youngest poet ever to read at the once every four years event. But that extraordinary performance almost didn’t happen.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Gorman said she was considering declining the honor after loved ones expressed concerns for her safety, particularly considering that white supremacists and rioters stormed the Capitol in Washington D.C. just two weeks earlier.
"I was scared of failing my people, my poetry. But I was also terrified on a physical level," Gorman wrote. "Covid was still raging, and my age group couldn't get vaccinated yet. Just a few weeks before, domestic terrorists assaulted the U.S. Capitol, the very steps where I would recite. I didn't know then that I'd become famous, but I did know at the inauguration I was going to become highly visible—which is a very dangerous thing to be in America, especially if you're Black and outspoken and have no Secret Service."
Gorman reveals that friends told her to buy a bulletproof vest and that she and her family practiced defensive measures.
"My mom had us crouch in our living room so that she could practice shielding my body from bullets,” she wrote. “A loved one warned me to 'be ready to die' if I went to the Capitol building, telling me, 'It's just not worth it.' I had insomnia and nightmares, barely ate or drank for days. I finally wrote to some close friends and family, telling them that I was most likely going to pull out of the ceremony."
On the eve of her needing to give her final decision to the Inaugural Committee, Gorman writes that she decided not to run from her fears.
“I closed my eyes in bed and let myself utter all the leviathans that scared me, both monstrous and minuscule,” she explains. “What stood out most of all was the worry that I'd spend the rest of my life wondering what this poem could have achieved. There was only one way to find out. By the time the sun rose I knew one thing for sure: I was going to be the 2021 inaugural poet. I can't say I was completely confident in my choice, but I was completely committed to it."
Those fears melted away on Inauguration Day, which obviously was evident with the grace and confidence she delivered her famed poem.
"As I stepped up to the dais to recite, I felt warm, like the words waiting in my mouth were aflame," Gorman wrote. "It seemed that the world stood still. I looked out and spoke to it. I haven't looked back."
Read the full New York Times op-ed here.