Speed Reads

'I was terrified'

Amanda Gorman says she was warned to 'be ready to die' if she performed at Biden's inauguration

Poet Amanda Gorman has revealed she nearly didn't perform at President Biden's inauguration due to safety concerns. 

Gorman recited a poem at Biden's inauguration in January 2021, which she reflected on in a new piece for The New York Times, explaining that "I almost declined to be the inaugural poet" because "I was terrified."

This, she says, was partially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because "domestic terrorists assaulted the U.S. Capitol" weeks earlier on Jan. 6 and because she feared becoming a "​​highly visible" person, especially as someone who is "Black and outspoken" and doesn't have Secret Service protection. 

"It didn't help that I was getting DMs from friends telling me not-so-jokingly to buy a bulletproof vest," Gorman writes. "My mom had us crouch in our living room so that she could practice shielding my body from bullets. 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.'" 

Gorman describes being barely able eat or drink for days beforehand, and she says she finally concluded she would likely pull out. But she says she decided against doing so after fearing "that I'd spend the rest of my life wondering what this poem could have achieved." 

Gorman, who was named National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, performed an original poem at Biden's inauguration titled "The Hill We Climb," for which she drew acclaim. She previously said she finished writing it in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which she took as a "reminder that we need tone and feeling and spirit to help us make sense of things." 

In her Times piece, Gorman reflects that as she stepped onto the dias to recite her poem that day, "​​It seemed that the world stood still. I looked out and spoke to it. I haven't looked back."