Sonoma native Ada Limón appointed to unprecedented 2-year second term as US Poet Laureate

“Ada (Limón) has been a stellar ambassador for the Library of Congress and an agent of grace and brilliance in continuing to broaden the reach of poetry to new audiences,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden after announcing that she has appointed the Sonoma native to an unprecedented two-year second term.|

Sonoma Valley native Ada Limón will be serving an unprecedented two-year second term as the nation’s 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, sparked by the success she achieved in her first term.

“Ada has been a stellar ambassador for the Library of Congress and an agent of grace and brilliance in continuing to broaden the reach of poetry to new audiences,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “Her dazzling talent is allowing us to take the laureateship on groundbreaking new projects by collaborating with diverse communities and institutions.

“Ada’s passion can be read in her words, and we are eager to see the magic she will spark the next two years.”

Several previous poets laureate have served one-year second terms, but none have been appointed to two-year for a second term. Still in the midst of her first term, Limón’s new term runs from September 2023 through April 2025.

“I’ve loved serving in this role and I know there is so much more we can accomplish,” Limón told the Index-Tribune. “Dr. Hayden is such an inspiration, and her confidence in me is truly moving.”

Poets laureate seek to raise the national consciousness to better appreciate the reading and writing of poetry. Specific duties are kept to a minimum so they have sufficient time to focus on their own projects, but in recent years, poets laureate have initiated projects that have broadened the audiences for poetry. For their term, they receive a $35,000 stipend and $5,000 for travel expenses.

The announcement of Limón’s new appointment coincides with her upcoming appearance at the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival, which will run from Friday, April 28 to April 30 at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa in Sonoma. Limón and Jeffrey Brown, senior correspondent and chief arts correspondent for “PBS NewsHour,” are scheduled to deliver a keynote session on Saturday afternoon from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m.

Limón will also be featured in the festival’s free Authors on the Plaza event on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., alongside Abraham Verghese and Dave Barry.

Ada Limón, Poet Laureate of the United States, reads a selection of her poems during a Santa Rosa Junior College Arts and Lectures event in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)
Ada Limón, Poet Laureate of the United States, reads a selection of her poems during a Santa Rosa Junior College Arts and Lectures event in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

Promoting poetry throughout the world

Her appearances are part of a busy schedule that has taken her to more than 24 national and international cities as the U.S. Poet Laureate.

“I spoke around the country about the importance of poetry,” Limón said. “Everywhere I go, I see huge crowds coming out to listen to poetry. Poetry feels very alive right now and people are hungry for the connection poetry can offer. It’s inspiration, really.”

She hosted an event at the White House with Jill Biden, the first lady of the United States, for the National Student Poets program. Limón also participated in a student outreach event at Planet Word museum in Washington, D.C., that honored Brigitte Macron, the wife of Emmanuel Macron, president of France.

One of Limón’s poems was translated into French for the special occasion, where she and poet Maya Salameh read their work and touted the power of poetry. Later that evening, Limón and her husband, Lucas Marquardt, attended the state dinner at the White House.

In January, Limón on flew to Mexico City, where she participated in Fandango — a celebration of the arts, poetry, music and dance — hosted by Beatriz Gutierrez Muller, wife of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, president of Mexico. In Buenos Aires, she took part in a conversation with Argentine poets Lara Wittner and Daniela Auginsky for the Library of Congress’ Palabra Archive, historically known as the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape.

Signature project as poet laureate

In August, Limón will appear at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. At the beginning of her second term, the Library will announce laureate initiatives with several federal and nonfederal partners, as well as details of her signature project — a first-ever partnership with the National Park Service and the Poetry Society of America to present poems in select national parks across the country.

“Ada will continue in the tradition of previous poets laureate, who have focused on signature projects and other major laureate initiatives during their second terms,” Hayden said.

Limón added, “I would love to say more (about the project), but I can’t until it launches in the fall. But it’s coming together and I am very excited.”

One of Limón’s other projects even extends beyond the planet. She was asked by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to write an original poem for the Europa Clipper, a spacecraft that is scheduled to begin a 1.8 billon-mile journey to Jupiter’s second moon in October. Limón’s poem will be released on June 1 and will be engraved on the spacecraft, which is slated to orbit Jupiter by 2030.

She is also writing a poem for the Fifth National Climate Assessment report, the latest in a series of assessments that evaluate the state of global climate science and analyze the impacts of climate change in the United States.

These two writing projects blend well with the emphasis on the appreciation of nature that is prevalent in much of her poetry.

“I think I am very connected to the natural world and it helps to ground me wherever I go,” she said.

She flew to Maui in December, where she wrote poetry for two weeks — including the poem for NASA — while staying at the home of former poet laureate W.S. Merwin at the Merwin Conservancy.

“It’s an incredible place, inside a 20-acre palm forest,” Limón said. “I wrote a draft of a poem every day and was moved by the lush jungle surroundings.”

In Mexico, where her paternal grandfather was born, she was struck by the many different types of fauna and flora.

“I felt like I could have stayed a long time to discover more and more,” Limón said. “Everywhere I go, I am looking for the ways in which we are all connected to the natural world. I want to bear witness to the many different landscapes of our country and celebrate them in my own work.”

In this undated photo provided by the Library of Congress, Ada Limón poses for a portrait in Washington. On Tuesday, July 12, 2022, the Library of Congress announced that Limón had been named the 24th U.S. poet laureate, officially called the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Her term began on Sept. 29, 2022, with the traditional reading at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. (Shawn Miller/Library of Congress via AP)
In this undated photo provided by the Library of Congress, Ada Limón poses for a portrait in Washington. On Tuesday, July 12, 2022, the Library of Congress announced that Limón had been named the 24th U.S. poet laureate, officially called the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Her term began on Sept. 29, 2022, with the traditional reading at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. (Shawn Miller/Library of Congress via AP)

Sonoma’s influence on her poetry

She developed a strong affinity with nature while growing up in Sonoma, attending Dunbar Elementary School, Altimira Middle School and Sonoma Valley High School, where she graduated in 1993.

Limón grew up hearing literary readings. Her stepfather, Brady T. Brady, read short stories and his friend, Earl LeClaire, read poems.

“I remember attending the readings as a child and loving them,” Limón said. “I also worked at Readers’ Books from ages 15 to 21, and it shaped me and my reading habits. I loved going through the poetry shelves and reading every book I came across. I remember we hosted readings by Philip Levine, Sharon Olds and Carolyn Kizer, to name a few. I was always hanging on every word.

“Also, my mother (Stacia Brady) is a painter, and I grew up realizing that Sonoma is a place that fosters an artistic way of thinking. But my biggest influence of all was probably the landscape itself. From the Mayacamas to Sonoma Mountain, I am in love with the Valley.”

Off and on, Limón stays in her small apartment on Moon Mountain when visiting Sonoma, but lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Her intimate connection with nature in Sonoma and elsewhere is apparent throughout her latest poetry book, “The Hurting Kind,” published my Milkweed Editions in 2022.

She continues to write new poems and many of them will appear in a volume of new and selected poems.

“I am finding time to write because I must,” she said. “I have to write to feel good, to feel like myself. Any time I get off kilter on the road, I remember to write, and I immediately feel better — even if it’s awful.”

Limón paused to reflect on how her service as the nation’s Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry has affected her life.

“The first term has been an otherworldly experience,” she said. “Whether it was at the White House, the Palacio Nacional (in Mexico City) or composing poems in W.S. Merwin’s Maui home, it’s as if my life became amplified. The biggest thing I’m working on is making sure I don’t miss it. It’s easy to rush from one thing to the next or feel a sense of urgency that blocks out all delight. But I want to pay attention. I believe in paying attention, in noticing.”

She also says that as the poet laureate, she wants to be sure that she continues to be herself while honoring her public role and private life as an artist and as a human.

“In some ways, I am just now realizing what kind of impact the laureateship can have, and I hope I can continue to do the role justice,” she said. “I keep thinking of this Emily Dickinson quote: ‘Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.’ For me, poetry is about opening doors. I want to keep opening them not just for myself, but for everyone who wants to walk through.”

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at daniel.johnson@sonomanews.com.

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