Donald Trump’s presidency proved to be a cash cow for book publishers, what with all the books exploring various scandals by investigative journalists, the juicy tell-alls by White House insiders, and, of course, the satirical take-downs of Trump and his cronies, often disguised as children’s books. While Joe Biden’s presidency has barely launched, the publishing industry is already invested: Amanda Gorman, 22, the youngest speaker at Wednesday’s inauguration, and Brayden Harrington, 13, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August, have just landed book deals resulting from their association with the new president. Coincidentally, the two share a common bond with Biden: Gorman suffered from a speech impediment as a child and Harrington stutters.
Viking Books for Young Readers announced late last week that it will publish on September 21, with a 150,000-copy first printing in hardcover, Gorman’s debut collection of poems for readers 14 and up, The Hill We Climb. The collection will include the poem Gorman recited during the inaugural ceremony, “The Hill We Climb.” Her debut picture book, Change Sings, illustrated by Loren Long, will be published the same day.
Gorman, named the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, is the sixth poet, and the youngest by far, to read a poem during a presidential inauguration, following in the steps of Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams, Elizabeth Alexander, and Richard Blanco. According to a New York Times profile, Gorman, who hails from Los Angeles, attracted the attention of First Lady Jill Biden during a reading she gave at the Library of Congress; Dr. Biden suggested that she be invited to read a poem at the inauguration.
Dressed in a bright yellow coat with a red hairband and earrings given to her by Oprah Winfrey, Gorman followed Biden to the stage and almost upstaged his speech. Her dynamic recitation of "The Hill We Climb” complemented Biden’s call moments before to a badly fractured nation to come together in unity and “end this uncivil war” that culminated in the storming of the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago.
“We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,” Gorman declared. “Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith, we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.”
Like Biden, Gorman emphasized in her presentation themes of grief, pain, and healing, as well as the enduring hope of Black people, acknowledging that, while this nation has not always lived up to its lofty ideals when it comes to the treatment of BIPOC people, it is slowly moving in the right direction.
"Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken, but simply unfinished," Gorman recited. "We, the successors of a country and time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president —only to find herself reciting for one."
After Gorman concluded her poem and walked by the Bidens to her seat, an applauding President was seen smiling and nodding to the First Lady, who nodded back in response. And NBC journalist Savannah Guthrie exclaimed, “I would hate to follow her” onto the stage.
Ridin', Writin' with Biden
As for Harrington, hours before the transfer of power from Trump to Biden, HarperCollins Children’s Books announced that it had negotiated a two-book deal with the 13-year-old, who met Biden shortly after the presidential campaign kicked off last year. He and Biden bonded over their struggles dealing with stuttering. Harrington was invited to speak at the DNC in August, where he disclosed that Biden gave him the confidence to be a full participant in conversations despite his stutter. The speech went viral and has received to date more than three million hits on Twitter.
HarperCollins will publish a picture book, Brayden Speaks Up, on August 10 that will be written by Harrington and illustrated by Betty C. Tang. According to the publisher, the book will demonstrate how Harrington’s stutter “is his greatest strength, making him an inspiration for all kids who feel different, and celebrates the importance of speaking up and using your voice.” It will include an author’s note and resources for those who stutter.
Harrington’s middle grade novel will be published next year. The publisher provided no further information.
In a release, Harrington’s editor, Megan Ilnitzki, stated, “Brayden Harrington is an extraordinary role model for kids and adults alike. Through his courage, perseverance, and strength of character, Brayden inspires us all to celebrate who we are and to make each of our voices heard."
Wednesday evening, Harrington participated in the televised inauguration festivities, in a segment during which three celebrities recited passages from previous inauguration speeches; Harrington recited a passage from John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration address, including the line, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
This story has been updated with further information.