When Ada Limòn was appointed the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States this year, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden called her “a poet who connects. Her accessible, engaging poems ground us in where we are and who we share our world with. They speak of intimate truths, of the beauty and heartbreak that is living, in ways that help us move forward.”

Limón is the author of six books of poetry, including 2015’s Bright Dead Things, a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Books Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and 2018’s The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. In 2022 she released The Hurting Kind, a collection exploring the interconnectedness between humans, ancestors, and nature, as a companion piece to the non-fiction book Shelter, a love letter to trees that have grounded and inspired her throughout her life.

Sharing some of her all-time favorite reads in an interview with Shelf Awareness, Limón spoke of her early appreciation for Elizabeth Bishop, and finding magic in the words of Maurice Sendak and Pablo Neruda. From Neil Gaiman to Anaïs Nin, find her recommendations below.


Southernmost by Silas House

“Man, can he write a sentence.” -AL

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes

“I actually don’t know how he just keeps getting better and better, but he does. He’s an inspiration.” -AL

I’m Not Missing by Carrie Fountain

“I love the half-Mexican protagonist. Such a good book for young people.” -AL

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (also rec’d by Michelle Obama & Richard Branson)

“I loved the idea of secret worlds, anything where another parallel universe of magical creatures lived. Especially a secret world that can be accessed by rage or loneliness. I loved the idea that magic existed, but we just didn’t always notice it. Actually, let’s be honest, I still love that idea. I continue to believe magic is real somewhere and we just have to find it. I felt the same way about C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Some part of me is always opening closets and expecting another land to be on the other side.” -AL

Collected Poems by Lucille Clifton

“Lucille Clifton is someone who I re-read a great deal; her poems defy classification. She has such a keen and almost brutally observant eye, yet she manages to practice great empathy, connection and gratitude at the same time.” -AL

Geography III by Elizabeth Bishop

“Elizabeth Bishop was the first poet that I really loved. I discovered her work when I was 15, and I still think Geography III is near perfect. The patience she takes with each seemingly minor image as well as her secretive tendencies–both hiding the self and exposing it–have always amazed me.” -AL

Ode to Common Things by Pablo Neruda

“It might seem cliché, but Pablo Neruda was an early influence, and I continue to turn toward him. It wasn’t the love poems that I was first drawn to, but rather Ode to Common Things. I loved the idea of writing about the smallest, simplest, mundane objects and turning them into odes. Perhaps that goes back to my wish for real magic to exist. Since then I’ve been to all of his houses in Chile and even though, like any historical figure, he’s problematic, I can’t help but admire his absolute dedication to the strangeness of the world.” -AL

Elegy by Larry Levis

“Larry Levis is another poet that I return to. His book Elegy is an essential book for me. He moves in a way that no other poet moves; his willingness to extend an image or a metaphor over numerous complex lines and truly map the wildness of the mind is extraordinary.” -AL

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

“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.” -AL

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

“It’s amazing. I already had read pretty much everything Gaiman has written, but the cover intrigued me and I am notoriously drawn to watery images (Pisces Moon and all), so I had to have it as soon as I came across it.” -AL

Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin (also rec’d by Dita Von Teese)

“Erotica has always held a certain allure for me. It must be so hard to write good erotica, interesting erotica, without being clumsy or crude, and very early on Delta of Venus was a book I couldn’t put down.” -AL

The Dead and the Living by Sharon Olds (also rec’d by Sarah Paulson)

“I think Sharon Olds’s The Dead and the Living was one of the first books of poems that made me want to really be a poet. Or made me believe that I could be a poet. Her voice, her courage, her sense of sight and self still ignite a large impulse in me to write when I pick it up.” -AL

Sun Under Wood by Robert Hass

“‘I had the idea that the world’s so full of pain/ it must sometimes make a kind of singing,/ and that the sequence helps, as much as order helps–/ first an ego, and then pain, and then the singing.’ That’s from Robert Hass’s poem ‘Faint Music’ in Sun Under Wood. I say it all the time to myself. It seems so true to me. I also think that’s a way of understanding poetry.” -AL

The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz

Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop

The Art of Losing edited by Kevin Young

“The Art of Losing is a gorgeous anthology on grief edited by Kevin Young and I cannot live without that book.” -AL

Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry edited by Mónica de la Torre & Michael Wiegers

“My other favorite anthology is Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry. It’s such a wide variety of voices and every page holds something new and exciting.” -AL

How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi & Miller Williams

“I was much too young to really grasp the book, but I stole it off my English teacher’s shelf when I was 15 and never gave it back. Since then I’ve read it many times looking for language to describe why I love both reading and making poems. I am sorry I stole it, but hopefully she forgives me. I have used it only for good.” -AL

Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra

“I love what that book did to my brain. I had no idea what I was getting into and I just went with it and let the multiple-choice questions unfold without trying to ‘figure them out.’ That book is such a force and a pleasure.” -AL

(via Shelf Awareness)

Categories: Writers