Ada Limón

Poet Class of 2023
Portrait of Ada Limón

Counterbalancing grief with wonder in works that heighten our awareness of the natural world and our connections to one another.

location icon Location
Lexington, Kentucky
age iconAge
47 at time of award
area of focus iconArea of Focus
website iconWebsite(s)

About Ada’s Work

Ada Limón is a poet heightening our attention to the wonders of the natural world and our connections with one another. Across six books of poetry, she melds close observations with a direct tone that resonates powerfully with a wide readership. She constructs rhythmically intricate lines with pared-down, conversational language and approaches each new work as an opportunity to forge a confiding intimacy with her reader.

Limón pairs self-reflection on themes such as gender roles, family, and illness with striking studies of animals observed throughout her life—such as whiptail lizards from the California of her childhood, or crows and kingfishers spotted in her current home state of Kentucky. In How to Triumph Like a Girl,” the opening poem of Bright Dead Things (2015), Limón admires the power of female horses, particularly their giant, pumping hearts. She addresses life’s disappointments and cruelties with candor in The Carrying (2018), her most autobiographical collection. She writes from a place of openness and vulnerability about infertility, aging parents, the body’s frailty, and the terrifying and toxic aspects of modern life. Yet she counterbalances grief with wonder by reveling in acts of creation and repair, from the naming of wild things, to the cultivation of a garden, to the mending of what has been ruined during the winter. Limón’s most recent book, The Hurting Kind (2022), comprises sections named for the four seasons. Several poems in the collection honor quotidian feats of survival, such as her grandmother packing peaches for a living and a groundhog’s stolen bites of green tomatoes. She offers, throughout, glimpses of birds, fish, and foliage that do not serve as symbols but as grounding, earthly reminders of our need to understand ourselves as of a piece with the natural world.

Limón is committed to exposing new and expert readers to the musicality and expressive capacities of poetry. As former host of the podcast The Slowdown, she gave a reading of a poem a day, and she is expanding her efforts to provide a way into the art form in unexpected spaces during her tenure as U.S. poet laureate (2022–2025). Her poem, “In Praise of Mystery,” will travel to the second moon of Jupiter on the NASA spacecraft the Europa Clipper. With her signature project, “You Are Here,” she will bring poetry to national parks and focus on how poetry can help connect us to the natural world. Limón’s work attests to poetry’s power to articulate both our ordinary and ineffable experiences and to function as an antidote to loneliness, especially during the most isolating of times.


Ada Limón received a BA (1998) from the University of Washington and an MFA (2001) from New York University. Her additional collections include Lucky Wreck (2006), Big Fake World (2007), and Sharks in the Rivers (2010). Her poems have appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poetry Review, The New York Times, and The Atlantic.

In Ada’s Words

“For me, poetry is the language of mystery, it exists in the liminal spaces....”

For me, poetry is the language of mystery, it exists in the liminal spaces, the between worlds of waking and sleep, the places where extreme clarity turns into a surreal and unarguable truth. I feel my most free when I am making poems, when I am not searching toward an end goal but instead when I’m unraveling the strangeness of my own human experience, when I am listening to the inner and outer worlds. I am always leaning into the natural world in my work—not simply for a sense of peace or stillness but for a way of remembering that I am also nature, that we are all mortal. Whether we are flesh or tree bark, we are changing, up against a boundary that we cannot pierce. My poems delve into memory and landscape; they are a way of honoring, or searching for and naming, an interconnectedness, but they are also living things that radiate away from me and become something that no longer belongs to me. They are notes slipped under the door left for anyone to hold.

Published on October 4, 2023

Photos of Ada Limón

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