Amanda Gorman “screamed and danced her head off” when she found out she had been chosen to read one of her poems at Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony.
At the age of 22, the Los Angeles-born writer and performer is the youngest poet to perform at a presidential inauguration.
She told the BBC’s World Service she felt “excitement, joy, honour and humility” when she was asked to take part in the ceremony, “and also at the same time terror”.
Her poem, The Hill We Climb, is a new composition she said she hoped would “speak to the moment” and “do this time justice”.
“I really wanted to use my words to be a point of unity and collaboration and togetherness,” she told the World Service’s Newshour programme before the ceremony.
“I think it’s about a new chapter in the United States, about the future, and doing that through the elegance and beauty of words.”
Gorman completed her poem on 6 January, the day the Capitol in Washington DC was stormed by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Her poem speaks of “a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it” and “destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy”.
It continues: “This effort very nearly succeeded/But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”
She told the New York Times: “Now more than ever, the United States needs an inaugural poem. We have to confront these realities if we’re going to move forward.”
Born in LA in 1998, Gorman had a speech impediment as a child – an affliction she shares with America’s new president.
“It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be,” she said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds [and] be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience.”
Gorman became LA’s youth poet laureate at 16. Three years later, while studying sociology at Harvard, she became the first national youth poet laureate.
She published her first book, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, in 2015 and will publish a picture book, Change Sings, later this year.
She follows in the footsteps of Maya Angelou, Richard Blanco and Robert Frost, who are among the five poets to have performed at previous presidential inaugurations.