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Poet Elizabeth Alexander Reflects on Inaugural Reading

Only a few poets have participated in the swearing-in ceremony for our nation's highest office, and on Jan. 20, Elizabeth Alexander will become just the fourth to hold that honor when she will recite an original poem at President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Poets typically write for a small audience. Very few will ever speak to millions. But, on January 20, Elizabeth Alexander will do just that, when she recites an original poem at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

    Ms. Alexander was born in Harlem, raised in Washington, D.C., and attended Yale University, where she now teaches African-American studies. She's author of four books of poetry, including her most recent, "American Sublime," a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005.

    Elizabeth Alexander is just the fourth poet ever asked to read at an inauguration.

    And she joins us now. Welcome to you.

    ELIZABETH ALEXANDER, author, "American Sublime": Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    I read that, as a 1-year-old, you were at the National Mall in 1963 and heard Martin Luther King make his famous speech. So, is there a special symmetry in your coming role at the other end of the Mall?

  • ELIZABETH ALEXANDER:

    Oh, absolutely.

    My parents were very committed to civil rights, worked their whole lives toward the goals of the civil rights movement. And, so, of course, they took me when I was a baby to the March on Washington.

    And to think that here, in — in that same space in Washington, D.C., we're going to be at a quite different moment, that in some ways is the civil rights movement coming not to total fruition, but at least coming to a moment where we can stop and say that some remarkable progress has been made, is a beautiful circle.

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