On January 20th, 2021, a 22-year-old Amanda Gorman captivated the world when she read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ presidential inauguration ceremony. Addressing a country reeling from Covid losses, the 2020 murder of George Floyd, and the Capital insurrection just a few weeks prior, Gorman’s stirring recital – invoking themes of identity, grief, and national memory – was celebrated around the globe for galvanizing a nation in clear crisis.

A born and raised Angeleno, Gorman was inspired to activism early and became a youth delegate for the United Nations in 2013. The following year, she was named the inaugural Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate. In 2015 Gorman self-published her first poetry collection, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, and was named the first-ever U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate while attending Harvard two years later.

Throughout her work – including the bestselling poetry collection Call Us What We Carry and lyrical picture book Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem Gorman explores themes of Black identity, feminism, marginalization, and climate change. In conversation with Michelle Obama, she spoke on the importance of making poetry accessible to young people:

“We really need to break out of the pathology that poetry is only owned by certain elites. Where we can start is highlighting and celebrating poets who reflect humanity in all of its diverse colors and breadth.”

To commemorate last year’s publication of The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem, Gorman shared some of the titles that have inspired her life’s work in a reading list for Vintage Books. From Toni Morrison to Danez Smith, find her favorites below, and complement with the recommendations of Ada Limón, Malala Yousafzai, Maya Angelou, Stacey Abrams, Ocean Vuong and Rupi Kaur.


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (also rec’d by Gabrielle UnionGeorge SaundersIbram X. KendiJane Elliott & Tarana Burke)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (also rec’d by Angie Thomas, Christiane Amanpour, Colin KaepernickGlennon DoyleJanet MockRichard Branson & Shonda Rhimes)

Homie by Danez Smith

Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry by Charles Henry Rowel

Categories: Activists Writers