US Poet Laureate Ada Limón

Amanda Harper


When Lexington-based poet Ada Limón was asked to participate in a Zoom call on June 1st, she had no idea what to expect. She was surprised to learn that she was on the line with Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress. She was – ironically, perhaps – rendered speechless when she learned that the call was to invite her to serve as the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States.

"Ada Limón is a poet who connects," Hayden said. "Her accessible, engaging poems ground us in where we are and who we share our world with. They speak of intimate truths, of the beauty and heartbreak that is living, in ways that help us move forward."

Limón was born in Sonoma, California in 1976. She fell in love with "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop at 15, and thus with poetry. Limón’s mother is a painter – her mom actually painted every cover of Limón's poetry books so far – and she grew up in a home environment that nurtured her passion for the arts.

Limón's career nearly took a very different path artistically. She majored in theatre at the University of Washington and planned to continue with theatre in her graduate studies at NYU. A poetry professor – National Book Award winner Colleen J. McElroy – pulled her aside and suggested she focus on poetry instead. While she moved into marketing upon graduation, she eventually transitioned into the life of a full-time writer.

"Kentucky for me has become such a beautiful home; it's allowed me to have a little more space and time to write. But it's also really allowed me a very generous writing community that I get to surround myself with and be inspired by all the time."

Limón moved to Kentucky a decade ago with her now-husband, who works in the thoroughbred industry. She fell in love first with the landscape of the Bluegrass, then with the arts scene. "[Kentucky] has a wonderful literary community, and a literary legacy… there are so many great writers that have come from Kentucky, and that live in Kentucky now. And I think it's so important to remember that writing doesn't just happen on, you know, the two coasts," she said in an interview with WKMS. At least two other Kentuckians have served as the US Poet Laureate; Allen Tate (born in Winchester, Ky) and Robert Penn Warren (born in Guthrie, Ky).

"Kentucky for me has become such a beautiful home; it's allowed me to have a little more space and time to write," Limón explained. "But it's also really allowed me a very generous writing community that I get to surround myself with and be inspired by all the time."

Limón was surprised, thrilled and honored by the announcement – so much so that she admits she floundered for words at the time. She joked, “We’re supposed to, you know, have a way with words.” Limón later summed up her “enormous gratitude” in a statement, saying, "This recognition belongs to the teachers, poets, librarians and ancestors from all over the world that have been lifting up poetry for years. I am humbled by this opportunity to work in the service of poetry and to amplify poetry's ability to restore our humanity and our relationship to the world around us."

Limón's one-year term as the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry begins September 29th, and the position comes with an optional one-year renewal. Her duties will begin with a reading of her work in the Library of Congress Coolidge Auditorium. While the job is officially headquartered in Washington, DC, laureates are only required to be there for a few obligations.  That means Limón will carry out her term right here in Lexington, where she finds the peace and relaxation she finds necessary to write – though the announcement of her appointment may mean a little less quiet.

What are her duties, exactly, and what is a poet laureate? The position has existed since 1937. Many of our nation's most important, gifted and forward-thinking poets have been bestowed this prestigious title of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (it wasn't until 1985 that the title became Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry).

The Poet Laureate "seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry," according to the Library of Congress. How each laureate interprets this mission varies, but many in recent years have started large dedicated poetry projects to help more people discover an appreciation for the art form.

For Limón, a key goal of her term is to help everyone understand that poetry isn't something that exists only in an academic space. Speaking again to WKMS, she said, "I would want to promote poetry as a tool to help us reclaim our humanity, to help us remember who we are, and to help us reclaim our, you know, for the lack of a better word, soul. And then I would also really like to, for us to recognize that poetry can help us repair our relationship to the natural world, to remember that we're connected, because I think so many people have felt so isolated for so long."

One way she hopes to achieve that goal is to get people thinking about poetry in public spaces. Nature is a recurring element in her own work (one of her books for Scribd Originals is titled Shelter: A Love Letter to Trees); she would love to have poetry linked to parks, urban green areas or unexpected spaces for free, where anyone can access it – or, perhaps more accurately, encounter and interact with poetry without actively seeking it. She envisions people going for a leisurely walk and experiencing poetry the way they might take in the trees, grass and flowers.

Limón also wants to bring awareness to the global legacy of our nation’s literature and poetry. She points out that American poetry comes from many different sources and many different voices – ones often left out of the “literary canon.”

One of those varied voices making up our shared literary legacy is hers. Her six poetry collections have won numerous literary awards. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. She serves on the faculty of Queens University of Charlotte's Low Residency MFA program.

Limón has already been working to make poetry more democratized and accessible through modern media. She currently hosts The Slowdown, a podcast series from American Public Media in partnership with The Poetry Foundation, which was launched as a part of Tracy K. Smith's poet laureateship. The episodes feature a poem and a moment of reflection each workday, which offers its listeners "a different way to see the world – through poetry."

Limón's most recent book, The Hurting Kind, was published as part of a three-book deal with Milkweed Editions. The second book, Beast: An Anthology of Animal Poems, will be released in 2024 and will feature works by major poets of the last century. The third will be a volume of New & Selected Poems, which will be published in 2025. And there’s certainly more on the horizon for this talented poet.

"What an incredible honor to be named the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States,” Limón said in a statement. “Again and again, I have been witness to poetry's immense power to reconnect us to the world, to allow us to heal, to love, to grieve, to remind us of the full spectrum of human emotion.” •

To learn more about Ada Limón, visit or follow her on Instagram @adalimonwriter

To listen to The Slowdown, visit or find it wherever you listen to your podcasts!