Karla Huston, Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2017–2018, lives in Appleton, Wisconsin. Huston’s poems find their roots in the stories we tell, those memories which define us as human. Her poems often draw on personae from Greek myth to art to Hollywood movie stars of yore to explore a range of ideas and issues—recurrent among them are topics related to aging and women.
The author of eight chapbooks of poems, the latest Grief Bone, (Five Oaks Press), and a full collection A Theory of Lipstick (Main Street Rag Publications), Huston’s work has garnered many awards, including a Pushcart Prize for the poem “Theory of Lipstick” in 2011. In 2013 she received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association for her collection of the same title. Huston’s writing has earned residencies at Ragdale Foundation as well as the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her chapbook, Flight Patterns won the Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest in 2003. Huston has also been awarded three Jade Rings (one for fiction, two for poetry) from Wisconsin Writers’ Association.
A lifelong resident of Wisconsin, Huston is a graduate of West Salem High School. She has earned degrees from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh: BS in Education and an MA in English and Creative Writing. Huston started writing poetry when she began teaching creative writing in the mid-nineties at Neenah High School where she worked for fifteen years.
Huston is active in the Wisconsin writing community and beyond. She has served on the board of directors for Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets as well as the Fox Valley Writing project, an offshoot the National Writing Project, which stresses teachers teaching teachers and encourages cross-curricular writing.
Currently she is active on the board of the Council for Wisconsin Writers (CWW) as secretary and contest co-chair, helping to promote CWW’s mission to honor Wisconsin writers through their annual Wisconsin Writing Awards. In addition Huston serves as vice president, membership coordinator, and teaching staff at The Mill: A Place for Writers, a Fox Cities venue that offers a creative environment to encourage the growth of the literary community and provides learning opportunities for writers at all levels.
For several years she has contributed to the Fox Cities Book Festival helping to create poetry events during the festival.
She enjoys speaking to the public about poetry and the arts, especially about why it is necessary to both the individual and the community. Past events have included: UW Whitewater High School Creative Writing Festival, keynote speaker; Menasha Rotary, luncheon speaker; Mt. Mary University Leadership Institute, poetry and the business world; and The Great Lakes Writers Festival at Lakeland University, featured writer.
As well, she serves the poetry community by reviewing books of poetry both on the state and national level. She continues as a staff reviewer for Library Journal.
Wisconsin Poet Laureate Plans & Project(s)
Speaking about her selection as Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate, Huston calls it “a tremendous honor to bring my love of poetry to the residents of the state. I want people to see in poetry what I see.” Through readings, festivals, conferences and other events, she looks forward to hearing the stories of others and their experiences with poetry.
Most important is her desire to nurture the growth of poetry reading and writing as part the various Memory Café projects throughout Wisconsin and to encourage other poets to participate as facilitators.
Wisconsin's many Memory Cafe programs are sponsored by various organizations whose goal it is to bring those suffering from mild memory loss and dementia and their caregivers together to celebrate and collaborate as part of a community. “Poetry can make valuable connections with those who suffer from memory loss, an often ignored population. That is a wonderful gift, and I’m happy to give it.”
About Karla Huston’s Poetry
Of her poetry, the late poet Philip Dacey writes, “From start to finish it’s marked by … characteristic freshness and energy, not to mention humor and imagination as well. Of “Theory of Lipstick,” he adds, “It's a high-energy poem, quite a performance. Unflaggingly inventive and imaginative, a word-feast for sure. And music to match.”
Poet Tom Montag says that Huston writes of a “life where the small things we've noticed have meaning beyond the frail particulars. Such tellings are no less true for being imagined. … Huston has stepped beyond the need to tell the literal truth, into the realm of the larger truths she carries out of memory.”
Former Madison Poet Laureate Sarah Sadie Busse adds (of Grief Bone), “With language both masterful and lyrical, Huston’s poems give us loss and grief, verging seamlessly into phobia, nightmare, blood. Between these covers is ‘bludgeon with a burst of bloom/on the side.’ The result is at once unsettling and too familiar, a little like looking into a tarnished mirror, the view distorted by ‘ripple/scar and story.’ And reader, there is beauty to be found there, too.”