Ada Limón is no stranger to good news. In 2022, she was appointed the 24th poet laureate of the U.S., a role previously held by the likes of Tracy K. Smith, Joy Harjo, and Rita Dove. Last spring, she was granted a two-year second term. And in October came the announcement that she’d won a MacArthur “genius” grant. These are the achievements most writers only dream of—but there was one invitation that even the most inventive of poets would not have imagined: NASA reached out. It wanted Limón to compose an original poem to be launched into space.

“As soon as I hung up, I thought, Oh, no,” Limón, 47, says. The pressure was on. Her poem “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa” will be engraved inside the Europa Clipper, a spacecraft set to launch on Oct. 10 and begin orbiting Jupiter by 2030. Out of this world though the commission may be, it is a fitting one for a poet dedicated to exploring the ties between the human experience and the universe we all share.

“When I’m in my darkest space, as a poet and as a human, turning to nature is the one thing that will bring me back to myself,” Limón says. “It’s very hard to write from a place of fear and isolation. If you can, connect to the natural world—a tree, a shrub, whatever you can set your sight on for a moment. We’re not alone.”

This summer, Limón will embark on a tour across the U.S. to unveil poetry installations in seven national parks as part of her signature program as poet laureate, dubbed You Are Here—which is also the title of an anthology she’ll publish in April. From Washington to Florida, Limón will convene people from all walks of life to celebrate both poetry and the land.

Discovering strangers’ hunger for poems has been a key joy of the job, yet the solitary experience of writing remains a singular one for Limón. “As a woman in a body, you’re always looking for a safe space,” she says. “One of the things that has freed me the most as an artist is that I get to create a safe space on the page. When I watch young women writers discover that for themselves, it’s like a whole different kind of freedom.”

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