If you watched the Inauguration on Wednesday you got to hear National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman read her poem “The Hill we Climb.” And on a day of speeches and performances by many famous people, her poem reminds us how important words and the arts are to our national identity.
While it is not entirely a tradition, the choice to feature a poet or writer at the Inauguration has been a personal choice by several Presidents. John F. Kennedy was the first to invite a poet when he asked Robert Frost to read at his inauguration on January 20th, 1961. Since then only five other poets have had the honor of speaking at this important event. The list includes: Maya Angelou, Miller Williams, Elizabeth Alexander, Richard Blanco and of course Robert Frost and Amanda Gorman. Their inclusion signals a willingness to honor arts and literature as a part of our national heritage and to remind us that literature can unite us in our shared humanity.
Want to read more?
If you would like to read the poetry of past and present Inaugurations or would like to see the other works by these honored writers, follow the link to our Bibliocommons list to request works by these remarkable writers. See what these poets felt and wrote that inspired Presidents and people past and present. Also included at the bottom of the post are recordings from each inaugural reading. So watch and listen to the authors reading words at the Capitol.
Robert Frost on January 20, 1961 at the Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. The Poem is “The Gift Outright” which had a dedication written for the occasion that Frost was unable to read because of the glare, so he recited the poem itself from memory.
Maya Angelou on January 20, 1993 at the first Inauguration of President Bill Clinton. The poem is “On the Pulse of Morning”.
Miller Williams on January 20, 1997 at the second Inauguration of President Bill Clinton. The poem is “Of History and Hope”.
Elizabeth Alexander on January 20, 2009 at the first inauguration of President Barack Obama. The poem is “Praise Song for the Day”.
Richard Blanco on January 20, 2013 at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. The poem is “One Today”.
Amanda Gorman on January 20, 2021 at the Inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. The poems is: “The Hill we Climb”.