Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman Used ‘Hamilton’ to Manage Her Speech Difficulty
When 22-year-old Amanda Gorman took the podium at President Joe Biden’s inauguration she was just another poet. When she left it, she was a fresh force in American culture. Gorman’s recitation of her poem “The Hill We Climb” was graceful, powerful and inspiring in a moment when the country needed it most. But the road to that stage, and to being named the nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, hasn’t been smooth for Gorman.
Raised alongside her twin sister by a single mother, Los Angeles native Gorman struggled for years with a speech difficultly and auditory processing disorder, which made reciting her work difficult. Gorman’s struggle was pronouncing some letters, particularly “R.” It was a problem that lasted from the time she first spoke until her college years at Harvard, according to CNN.
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In 2014 Gorman wrote for HuffPost that she remembers at age 14, not worrying about the quality of her poetry but what her voice would sound like reading it out loud.
“Not too long ago, I mounted the stage to read my poetry at a writing workshop, thinking anxiously to myself: Why did I ever volunteer to read my work in front of all these people?!” she wrote. “Would the audience understand me? Would they, like most people, wonder what foreign, exotic country I came from, and I would have to tell them that my accent wasn’t an accent at all, but a disability?”
To help her learn to enunciate “R” Gorman turned to an unlikely source — award-winning musical “Hamilton.” Singing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir,” which Gorman said is “packed with ‘R’s’,” she would try to match the lyric styling of Leslie Odom Jr. who performed the song on Broadway. “I would say, if I can train myself to do this song, then I can train myself to say this letter.”
Gorman told Anderson Cooper on Thursday, “I’m proud to be in the speech difficulty club with you and President Biden, and also Maya Angelou,” she said. Biden and Cooper have both spoken in the past about their troubles with stuttering and Angelou was mute during childhood. She said that writing has also been key to overcoming her speech impediment:
For me I used writing, one, as a form of self-expression to get my voice on the page. But then it also metamorphosized into its own speech pathology, 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.