Nationally acclaimed author and poet Ada Limón will visit Ithaca College to speak to and meet individually with students as the first author for this year’s Distinguished Visiting Writer Workshop.
The Distinguished Visiting Writer Workshop is a one-credit course at the college that allows students to attend readings by three distinguished authors: one poet, one nonfiction writer, which will be Kiese Laymon and one fiction writer, which will be Dana Spiotta. Students also get the opportunity to study under and conference individually with one writer in the area of their choosing. For example, students interested in poetry will submit poem samples and conference with Limón. Each author also teaches two 90-minute classes throughout the semester that all students attend regardless of their concentration.
Limón is the author of four books of poetry, including “Bright Dead Things,” which was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of the Year, according to The New York Times. Her work explores issues of identity, relationships and language from both personal and worldly perspectives.
“What’s important to me is that poetry is seen as a wide-ranging form of communication, as well as an accessible art form,” Limón said.
Limón said she has been writing since she was young, though it was not until her junior year of college that she began to take poetry seriously.
“It was something I couldn’t deny,” she said. “I loved it so much. I wanted to do it all the time.”
This will not be her first time working with students. Limón currently teaches at New York University and Columbia University’s graduate School of the Arts, and additionally teaches an online course for the Queens University of Charlotte. She said she hopes through her reading, students will be able to have a better understanding of poetry as a whole.
“Too many people see poetry as a puzzle that needs to be solved or a math equation where there is only one answer,” she said. “For me, poetry is a lot simpler than that — it’s the letters we write to the universe.”
Her book “Bright Dead Things” is arranged into four untitled sections that focus on different themes. The book begins with a section revolving around the challenge of moving from New York City to the quiet and rural state of Kentucky. The second section is about the death of Limón’s stepmother, followed by the third, which is about falling in love. The last section is about how to be more at ease in the world.
“‘Bright Dead Things’ is a book that I wrote while I was asking myself what was the most important thing for me to write, what was scary, what was I compelled to say,” she said. “The poems here aren’t poems for poems’ sake. They are poems that I needed and hopefully that other people needed, too.”
The current director of the DVW series is associate professor Eleanor Henderson, who said she chose Limón due to the recent success of “Bright Dead Things.”
“We look for folks who have experience and sort of these model careers as writers,” Henderson said.
Henderson said she hopes students will walk away with a broader sense of what a writer is and can be, and receive concrete advice from the conferences on how to improve their own work.
“I think many students find the conferences nerve-wracking,” Henderson said. “They usually emerge feeling a little bit humbled, but also very grateful to have had that experience.”
Senior Grace Rychwalski, a writing major, has taken the workshop once before with the non-fiction concentration and will be taking it again this year to concentrate on poetry with Limón.
Rychwalski said what she found helpful last year was talking to someone who knows what’s current and knows what will and won’t get published, especially since they already have experience working as a professional author. She said she’s looking forward to meeting Limón out of a desire to improve her own poetry.
“It’s really affirming to have a successful person in the field look at something you created,” she said. “Even if she decides she can’t stand my style, even if she just says ‘I read your work,’ it’s a really cool feeling to know a successful person read your work and it made them think.”
Limón said what she’s looking forward to the most about the students is their enthusiasm. She said that while it’s easy to get burnt out, students are always enthusiastic about the possibility for change and for the future.
“I think as we get older, we tend to see the world as immovable and fixed and going in a downward trajectory,” Limon said. “But when you meet with students, you get that reminder that there’s a lot of hope and possibility out there.”