Award-winning poet Ada Limón is making history: The Library of Congress announced Tuesday that it has named her the 24th poet laureate of the U.S.
As Limón takes up the storied position this fall and travels around the country, she intends to share two things she believes about poetry: It gives us a way to "reclaim our humanity," and it can help repair our relationship with the planet.
But for starters, she's basking in the news and the moment.
“The reeling has not stopped,” Limón said, laughing, speaking on the phone ahead of the formal announcement.
Limón is the renowned author of six books of poetry. “The Carrying,” published in 2018, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry; her 2015 book, “Bright Dead Things,” was a National Book Award finalist.
In “The Hurting Kind,” Limón's latest book, published in May, she weaves indelible snapshots of experiences and people — both living and dead — with unforgettable images of the flowers, trees and animals around her or lovingly dredged from her memories.
"We're still in the middle of a pandemic — bouncing from trauma to trauma," said Limón, who is the first female U.S. poet laureate of Latino and Mexican American heritage. “It’s been such a tormented time.” Poetry, she said, is a way to connect to feelings, emotions and even stillness.
Limón, who lives in Kentucky, fell in love with poetry in her teens. She remembers asking whether she could keep a school test because it had a poem in it. At 15, when she started working at a bookstore in her hometown, Sonoma, California, she would gravitate to the poetry shelves and read in her free time.
Now she'll be part of a distinguished list of laureates that includes poets she has read and admired for decades.
In her new role, Limón wants to celebrate "not just poets, but poetry" — to think about it can do and foster more of those connections for those who haven't yet fallen in love with the genre.
"Sometimes where we fail as teachers is we give people just a few poems," she said. "But there are so many out there."
Limón would love to see more poems in public venues, for example in pocket parks in urban spaces, "when you're walking the dog, at the bus stop."
'Part of the American story'
Limón described herself as polyethnic. She has Mexican and Indigenous ancestry, and on her mother’s side there’s “a lot” of Scottish and Irish.
"That's part of the American story — so many times you have to be one thing or the other," she said. "So many Latinx friends ... want to be given the permission to be seen as containing multitudes, just like [the poet Walt] Whitman said."
Limón reflected on the privilege she has had as a working poet to pursue what she loves, a path that has led to her new prominent national role.
Her grandfather Francisco Carlos Limón “didn’t get a chance to choose art,” she said. Although he loved the arts, he "headed to safety" after he immigrated from Mexico and worked at Con Edison, the power company, the rest of his life.
"There is a level in which I feel like I'm really honoring my ancestors with this," Limón said.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden described Limón in her announcement as a poet who "connects" through accessible, engaging poems.
"They speak of intimate truths, of the beauty and heartbreak that is living," Hayden said of Limón's poems, "in ways that help us move forward."