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Get to Know Portland Arts & Lectures Author Ada Limón

Single tickets for Ada Limón’s event on Thursday, April 20th are now available! Click here for more information.

Poet Ada Limón sitting at a table with her hands folded.

On Thursday, April 20th, Literary Arts will host Ada Limón as the final event of our 2022-23 season of Portland Arts & Lectures.

Ada Limón is the author of six books of poetry, including The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and was a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and Bright Dead Things, which was nominated for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Limón’s work has been supported most recently by a Guggenheim Fellowship. Poet Richard Blanco describes Limón’s work as “both soft and tender, enormous and resounding, her poetic gestures entrance and transfix.” She grew up in Sonoma, California and now lives in Lexington, Kentucky where she writes, teaches remotely, and hosts the critically acclaimed poetry podcast, The Slowdown. Her new book of poetry, The Hurting Kind—an ode to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that characterizes the natural world—was released in spring 2022.

Is the work of a poet to be witness to the outside world? How does the personal “I” factor into a poem?

In this episode of Between the Covers with David Naimon, Limón talks about her role in her poems, answers questions about the limits of language, and reads from and discusses The Hurting Kind.

“Language can do so much, but on some level, it’s always going to let us down a little bit, which sometimes is a way of getting into a poem because you think, “Oh, there’s no way I could write a poem,” but then if you think of it, “Ah, it’s never going to get it right anyway.” You can start, allow yourself to begin.”


Landscapes, trees, horses, and the natural world in general, appear throughout all of Limón’s work.

In this interview with Camille Dungy, Limón discusses writing about nature, working on nonfiction, and other poets she is in conversation with.

“There’s this level in which the sentence becomes the engine, and that is paying homage to facts. It’s paying homage to a truth. There’s also a way in which it’s, like, it can’t evade or obfuscate a memory the way that you can sometimes in poetry. You can make a poem turn a memory. I might make a shift for music. I might change a blue vase another shade of blue because that sounds surreal, sounds better. And I think, in prose, I’m really trying to be honest about what actually happened.”

During her MFA at NYU, Limón studied with poets including Sharon Olds, Phil Levine, Marie Howe, and Mark Doty. Who are some of the other writers who have influenced her work? What books does she continue to return to?

Limón lists some of her favorite reads and more in this interview with Shelf Awareness.

“The book that I most likely have told people to read, or sent copies of, or taught, or mentioned in my own work is Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s a book that really shifted the way I thought about my own relationship to nature and to the earth. But it’s more than a book of indigenous wisdom or the power of plants, but a book that makes you look at the connectedness of all things. When I feel untethered and breathless, Braiding Sweetgrass reminds me that there is beauty here and that I can belong here. It’s a hugely important book to me.”

For an even more in-depth look, check out Limón’s bio below.

Ada Limón was born in Sonoma, California in 1976. She was exposed to art at a young age: her mother is an artist whose paintings have been used for all of Limón’s book covers. During high school, Limón worked at a used bookstore and was involved in the theatre; it was during this time she also developed a deep relationship with poetry. She has said that being from “where hiking in the hills was a normal childhood hobby, I not only have a connection to the wild, but also a connection with being alone… That’s where I find so much acceptance and ease, especially when I am feeling anxiety, crushing mental fear, or paralyzing self-doubt that’s so common with artists.”

Limón earned her B.A in drama from University of Washington in 1998. She went on to get an M.F.A. in Poetry from New York University, where she studied under poets including Sharon Olds and Phil Levine. “Without my time at New York University,” she said in one interview, “I fear that I wouldn’t have ever done the real nose-in-a-book work that was required. I needed those guides to point out what I was missing.” After earning her M.F.A., Limón worked in marketing for the magazine publishing company Condé Nast.

Limón’s time in New York City would prove to be pivotal for her poetic career. Her poems were picked up by publications including The New Yorker, and she entered her manuscripts into book contests, all while continuing her career in marketing. Her first two books, This Big Fake World: A Story in Verse (2005), and Lucky Wreck (2006), won the Pearl Poetry Prize, and the Autumn House Poetry Prize, respectively. Her next book of poems, Sharks in the Rivers, came out in 2010 from Milkweed, where she has published all her collections since then. Publishers Weekly said of Limón and Sharks in the Rivers, “Her sensibility draws her to wild landscapes of the West: California’s Russian River, backcountry Washington State, and the Rio Grande valley, where Aztec myths seem at home in our day: of interest to some for the poet’s Latino heritage, these sinewy odes, sexy glimpses… and visionary reminiscences should also appeal to readers who treasure the work of Jack Gilbert.

In 2010, Limón’s stepmother died from colon cancer at the age of 51, prompting the author to reflect on her own priorities. “I think going through something like that,” she has said of helping during her stepmother’s home death, “does really put everything into perspective… I think it’s one of the reasons I really committed to making art, because I really felt like, what was it to align myself with the way I wanted to live my life?” Following the event, Limón left marketing, devoted herself to writing full time, and eventually moved to Kentucky with her now husband.

Limón’s 2015 collection, Bright Dead Things, was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Rigoberto Gonzalez said in the LA Review of Books that “A current of grief runs through Bright Dead Things that amplifies its moments of grace… A poet whose verse exudes warmth and compassion, Limón is at the height of her creative powers, and Bright Dead Things is her most gorgeous book of poems.”

Called one of the most anticipated books of the year by NPR and Publishers Weekly, Limón released The Carrying in 2018. She said of The Carrying in one interview, “The questions just keep getting larger and larger. How do we hold all of these dualities in our minds—the daily bombardment of painful news and then the sort of sweet, little moments at home and the smallness of life?” The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award.

Last year, Limòn released her latest poetry collection, The Hurting Kind. A New York Times notable book of 2022, the poems touch on connection, mortality, and the landscapes and species that surround us—all preoccupations which reverberate throughout Limón’s work.

Her commitment to and accomplishments in the poetic world extend far beyond the page. Limón has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and elsewhere. In 2021, she became the host of the poetry podcast, The Slowdown, a role that was passed on to Major Jackson last year when Limón was made the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States. Today, Limón lives with her husband, cat, and dog in Lexington, Kentucky.

“I really feel like the philosophy behind my work is that, if we don’t mend our broken relationship to the earth, if we keep on feeling isolated and separate, the damage will continue. And so, I feel like part of the work that I’m interested in is doing some mending. And it’s just starting with me and it’s small, but it’s what I can do.”

-from Orion

Single tickets for Ada Limón’s event on April 20th are now available! Click here for more information.

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