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Amanda Gorman has revealed that one friend told her to buy a bullet-proof vest if she was going to read at Joe Biden’s inauguration, while another warned her “be ready to die”.
The poet penned an essay explaining why she was “terrified” of reading at the inauguration, a year she read “The Hill We Climb” on the Capitol steps in Washington DC. The poem earned widespread praise, and Ms Gorman herself became known around the world following the inauguration.
In an essay for The New York Times, she said she had almost declined to be the inaugural poet, because she feared her safety would be threatened during the event.
Mr Biden’s inauguration took place on 20 January 2021, 14 days after supporters of Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in a deadly insurrection. In addition, young adults such as Ms Gorman weren’t yet able to get vaccinated against Covid at the time.
“The truth is I almost declined to be the inaugural poet. Why? I was terrified,” she wrote.
She explained she was “scared of failing my people, my poetry”, and that she was “also terrified on a physical level”.
“Covid was still raging, and my age group couldn’t get vaccinated yet,” she wrote. “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.”
Ms Gorman’s loved ones feared for her safety, too. “I had insomnia and nightmares, barely ate or drank for days,” she recounted. “I finally wrote to some close friends and family, telling them that I was most likely going to pull out of the ceremony.”
“My mom had us crouch in our living room so that she could practice shielding my body from bullets,” she said. “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.’”
Ultimately, on the night before she had to give her final decision regarding her participation, Gorman examined her fear, and found she was most scared of spending “the rest of [her] life wondering what this poem could have achieved”. She resolved to take part in the inauguration and was “completely committed” to her choice.
After the inauguration, Gorman’s book The Hill We Climb (a hardcover edition of her inaugural poem), became a bestseller and was set to be published in 20 territories in addition to the US.
Gorman is also the author of Change Sings, a picture book, and Call Us What We Carry, a poetry collection released in December 2021.