Catching Up With a Grad: Ada Limón – Poetry in Motion

Ada Limón grew up loving theater, but in college she realized she would rather write her own words than perform someone else’s. Today, Limon (Sonoma Valley High class of 1993) is a successful writer with three published books of poetry under her belt (“Lucky Wreck,” “This Big Fake World” and “Sharks in the Rivers”) and two novels in the works. She was recently described by the San Francisco Examiner as “a rising star in the world of poetry.”

A self-described theater nerd in high school, Limón received a degree in theater from the University of Washington. Diploma in hand, she then crossed the country to enroll in the graduate writing program at New York University. “The fact that I got into such a prestigious graduate school was really shocking to me. I was pretty overwhelmed by it all. All my favorite writers were teaching there and it was an exceptional school.”

Limón paid next-to-nothing for college, but admits that she’ll be paying off her graduate school loans for some time. She said it is worth it. “I wanted to be at a university that really fostered my skills and appreciated my personality. I wanted to feel heard and to get one-on-one time with professors.”

While at NYU, Limón studied with former U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine. Since receiving her master’s of fine arts in poetry, Limon has been awarded the Chicago Literary Reward for Poetry, and received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She was also one of the judges for the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry.

While Limón recently relocated to Kentucky, she is a big fan of life in New York City. “New York was amazing. I thought I’d just stay for graduate school, but then I got hooked on the energy and ended up staying for 12 years.”

Limón’s first poems were published in 2001, and it is a feeling that she will remember forever. “I worried that it would never happen again. But then, more poems got published and more, and then finally the books came. It was a thrill. I’m not going to lie, it takes a ton of work and tenacity to get your work out in the world and to handle rejection and keep going, but every thing is a lesson and everything makes your work better and richer. The harder it is to be published, the more you appreciate it.”

In addition to her poems, Limón has had a blog ( since 2006 that she described as “a very simple, spare, online journal where I post photos and little lyric essays about my life. Writing can be such a solitary experience that I find it necessary sometimes to reach out and talk to other people who are trying to live the ‘writing life’ as well.”

Limón misses living in Sonoma and said that her third poetry book has a lot of that feeling of wanting to return home to the Valley. “I really got homesick for the landscape and the people.” She returned recently for a reading at Readers’ Books, where she worked in high school.

Up next for Limón is a fourth book of poems, “Bright Dead Things,” that’s with her publisher now. She is also working on finishing a novel that is set in Glen Ellen as well as a young adult novel. “Ever since high school, I have officially been obsessed with words,” she said.

She particularly enjoys the reaction she gets when she tells people that she’s a poet. “They are either really supportive and excited, or really unsure of what to say. Most people are just curious as to how I make a living!” To that end, Limón does some teaching, freelance writing and copywriting.

Life in Kentucky is an adjustment for Limón after life in New York. Her boyfriend is a horseracing reporter and Lexington is the center of the universe for all things horse racing. Since her job is pretty mobile, she can be anywhere and she appreciates the beauty and quiet of life there. When she is not writing, she tries to get away from her desk to do yoga, circuit training or to take long hikes with her dog. She gets back to Sonoma often, and has a small apartment on Moon Mountain (where she loves to write) as well as to see her mother and stepfather.

Limón’s father was a school principal, first at Dunbar Elementary School and later at Sassarini Elementary School. “It was oddly not as strange as that sounds; he’s a great guy and everyone liked him, so aside from having to arrive at Dunbar way too early every morning, it was sort of wonderful to watch him work.”

Her mother, Stacia Brady, is a painter who works and shows at LaHaye Art Gallery on East Napa Street. And she credits her stepfather, Brady T. Brady, with teaching her a great deal about writing. “I have had amazing teachers over the years, but it was Brady who urged me never to lose my own voice. I still think about him every time I’m about to read a poem out loud.”


By Ada Limón

What’s the drunk waxwing supposed to do

when all day’s been an orgy of red buds

on the winery’s archway off Gehricke Road

and it’s too far to make it home, too long

to fly, even as the sober crow goes. What’s

the point of passion when the pyracantha

berries keep the blood turned toward

obsess, obsess. Don’t you know those birds

are going to toss themselves to the streets

for some minor song of happiness? And

who can blame them? This life is hard.

And let me be the first to admit, when I

come across some jewel of pleasure, I too want

to squeeze that thing until even its seedy heart

evaporates like ethanol, want to throw my

bird-bones into the brush-fire until,

half-blind, all I can hear is the sound

of wings in the relentlessly delighted air.

Original published in

Harvard Review and appears in Sharks in the Rivers

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