Young Success

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman used writing to overcome a speech impediment she had as recently as college

Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman speaks at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

To many, Amanda Gorman's delivery of the her inaugural poem "The Hill We Climb" was one of the highlights of Inauguration Day on Wednesday. The 22-year-old captured the nation not only with her words, but also her poise. 

"You were perfect. Perfectly written, perfectly delivered. Every bit of it. Brava!" Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted, after Gorman alluded to his musical "Hamilton" in her poem.

But what makes Gorman's delivery all the more remarkable is that as recently as college, Gorman struggled with a speech impediment.  

"I am proud to be in the speech difficulty club with you and President Biden and also Maya Angelou," Gorman told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday. (Cooper told Gorman he had a slight stutter as a child. Joe Biden also had a stutter.)

For Gorman, her impediment was "dropping a whole swath of letters in the alphabet," she told Cooper. "So for, most of my life, until two or maybe three years ago, I couldn't say the letter 'r.' Even to this day sometimes I struggle with it," Gorman said. (Gorman did not let it affect her word choice for "The Hill We Climb," which in which she used the word "rise" multiple times.)

For Gorman, writing became a respite and a cure.

"I used writing one as a form of self expression to get my word on the page but then it also metamorphosed into its own speech pathology," she says. "So the more that I recited out loud, the more in which I practiced spoken word and that tradition, the more I was able to teach myself how to pronounce these letters which for so long had been my greatest impediment."

Gorman said she also used a song from Miranda's Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical Hamilton to help with her speaking.

"I would listen to the song, 'Aaron Burr, Sir,' which is just packed with r's, and I would try to keep up with Leslie Odom Jr. as he is doing this amazing rap. I would say, 'if I can train myself to do this song, then I can train myself to say this letter.' And so that has been a huge part of my own speech pathology. It's why I included it in the inaugural poem."

(The line in Gorman's poem, "For while we have our eyes on the future/history has its eyes on us," references the "Hamilton" song "History Has Its Eyes on You," and the line, "Everyone shall sit under their own vine, and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid," was a nod to a passage in the Bible that was also used in the musical.)

Gorman also told Cooper that beyond being a tool, "I think 'Hamilton' is such a great American cultural piece of what it means to be a better country."

Her own heritage is something Gorman thinks about each time she prepares to recite a poem. "I close my eyes and I say, 'I am the daughter of Black writers. We are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.'"

See also:

Meet 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history

Read the full text of Amanda Gorman's inaugural poem 'The Hill We Climb'

What George Takei learned about resilience from his dad making art in Japanese internment camp

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman delivers a poem at Biden's inauguration
Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman delivers a poem at Biden's inauguration