Daily Video

January 13, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander Reflects on Inauguration Reading

Poet Elizabeth Andrews was selected to read an original poem at Barack Obama’s inauguration at the U.S. Capitol January 20. She teaches African-American studies at Yale University.

She spoke with the NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown about her important task and her approach to the art of poetry.


“It’s challenging, because what you try to do is both serve the occasion — and, of course, the occasion of January 20 must be served — but to find language and imagery that people will want to hold onto after the occasion is passed.” – Elizabeth Alexander

“I have looked at poems that I love that seem to understand the historic moment, that seem to be able to find a language that has some resonance, that speaks out of a historic moment, but with hopefully a language that is somewhat enduring.” – Elizabeth Alexander

Warm Up Questions

1. Why is the inauguration poem important?

2. For what reasons is Barack Obama’s inauguration historic?

Discussion Questions

1. What poem would you write if you had to write one for Obama’s inauguration?

2. Alexander was on the National Mall for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech when she was one year old. A lot has changed in race relations in America since then. What kind of changes do you think you’ll see when you are an adult?

3. What do you think about Alexander’s poem? What did it say to you?

Additional Resources

Read the transcript

Elizabeth Alexander at the Poetry Foundation

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