A Painting of Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman is Now Part of Harvard’s Collection
A portrait of Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old former National Youth Poet Laureate who gave a widely admired recital at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, has been gifted to Harvard University by art collector and galleries Amar Singh, alum of the college.
Gorman, who was the inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, earned the honor while studying sociology at Harvard. Her portrait will now be part of the collection of the university’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research.
The painting, by Ghanian artist Raphael “Afutumix” Adjetey Adjei Mayne, depicts Gorman reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” while wearing an ornate bird cage ring. The ring, a gift from Oprah Winfrey, is a reference to poet Maya Angelou—who read at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration—and her famed poem, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
Singh purchased the painting, which was completed in just five days, for €8,000 ($9,682) from the New York gallery Ross-Sutton Gallery, according to the Art Market Monitor.
“This work must be in an institution,” Singh said in a statement. “It is a celebration of women, a celebration of Black women, and a celebration of hope.”
Gorman already has a place in a museum collection in her own right, having donated a manuscript of her poem “In This Place (An American Lyric)” to New York’s Morgan Library & Museum in 2018, where it went on view alongside works by Elizabeth Bishop, Carson McCullers, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Peter Paul Rubens.
It was a performance of that poem—written in response to the violence of Charlottesville’s white supremacist Unite the Right rally—that led Jill Biden to ask Gorman to compose a new piece of writing for the inauguration.
“The theme for the inauguration in its entirety is ‘America United,’ so when I heard that was their vision, that made it very easy for me to say, great, that’s also what I wanted to write about in my poem, about America united, about a new chapter in our country,” Gorman told the New York Times.
“Being American is more than a pride we inherit/it’s the past we step into/and how we repair it,” Gorman read at the ceremony. “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation/rather than share it.”