In the beginning of 2021, Amanda Gorman made history as the youngest inaugural poet at 22 years old when she recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden‘s inauguration. Amanda rose to viral and global fame overnight due to her talent, and has since landed a contract with IMG Models. In April, she was the star of a Vogue cover profile, where she shared more not only about her poetry and modeling aspirations, but also her work as an activist and organizer.
While Amanda’s career has certainly been on a straight shot upward since her appearance at the inauguration, it turns out that her performance that day almost didn’t happen at all. In a new essay for the New York Times, Amanda opened up about the tremendous amount of fear she felt about performing at the inauguration, just a few weeks after a crowd stormed the U.S. Capitol building during the January 6 insurrection. “I was scared of failing my people, my poetry. But I was also terrified on a physical level,” she explained, noting that COVID-19 was still a huge concern, as she hadn’t yet been vaccinated at the time. “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.”
Amanda added that several of her family members and loved ones expressed concern for her safety and well-being, and that she practiced emergency defensive measures in her living room alongside her mother in case of gunfire. “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,'” she recalled.
All of the fear and anxiety took a physical toll as well as an emotional one, and eventually Amanda began considering canceling her appearance altogether. “I had insomnia and nightmares, barely ate or drank for days,” she wrote. “I finally wrote to some close friends and family, telling them that I was most likely going to pull out of the ceremony.”
Ultimately, Amanda confronted her fears head-on, deciding to listen to her worries and anxieties, realizing that one of the loudest concerns was the regret she might feel if she did, in fact, pull out. “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,” she explained in her essay. “There was only one way to find out.” According to Amanda, when she woke up the next day, she had gained the clarity she needed. “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.” She added that by the time she stepped up to the podium, she knew she had made the right decision.