Amanda Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet in history when she presented her work “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration on Jan. 20. Still, the 22-year-old was surprised by the response she received from people in attendance and those who watched from home hours after she took the podium.
“I understood in some capacity that I was making history as the youngest inaugural poet. I didn’t know really what that history would look like or the impact it would have. I just remember finishing, going back to my holding room and just swiping up my Instagram, [thinking] I wonder what people are saying. And just my apps, my phone, not functioning,” she said during an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show on Tuesday. “My phone was basically a brick, like all the apps I typically use had crashed, I couldn’t look at my photos, anything like that. And I hadn’t expected that. I thought, oh maybe I’ll get a few thousand more followers. To get millions and millions of followers in under 48 hours was just, I think, that was the moment I went, ‘Wow, this has really touched people in a way that I did not predict.’”
Although Gorman’s performance seemed flawless to anybody who watched the young woman speak and listened to the incredible words that she wrote, she did admit that she didn’t get to practice nearly as much as she would have liked to.
“I was stressed, very much so. And I think there’s not only the writing and the construction of the poem, for me the kind of performance and spoken word element of it is just as important. So I really wanted to practice that but whenever I wanted to there was an interview or my mom knocking on my door, bless her heart,” she explained. “And I kind of had to be like, ‘Mom, maybe stay in your hotel room for like an hour. I need to practice this.’ So I didn’t really get to practice it as much as I would’ve liked to before I did it, so I’m really glad that I was still able to kind of stick the landing.”
She also recalled just how invigorating it was to step up to the podium where she spoke, looking directly at the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial which were in her line of vision. “Just feeling part of that history as the descendent of a slave,” she said. “I also smile because when I got up to the podium I heard people below, which you can’t really see, clapping for me. And it was just this really surprising moment that, wow, people are really excited to hear what I have to say, to hear poetry. What an opportunity for our country and the world. So I kind of giggled to myself and then got going.”
And while her mother was busy being a fan of Jennifer Lopez and fiancé Alex Rodriquez who sat nearby, Gorman recalled being more interested in the interaction between Barack and Michelle Obama.
“I remember Michelle Obama being close and she kind of kept yelling at Barack like, ‘Stop hugging people, stop getting close to people.’ And then when I was done, she kind of pushed him out of the way and gave me just the biggest, warmest Michelle Obama hug,” Gorman said. “I had met Michelle a few times before, not Barack. And whenever I meet Michelle I hope that she forgets meeting me because I just want a do-over, I just want a clean slate. I just want to do it right this time. But she always remembers and she’s always great. And when I hug her, I’m so short my forehead is like in her belly button and it’s the best feeling.”
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