2017-2018 Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Karla Huston, lives in Appleton, Wisconsin. Huston’s poems find their roots in the stories people tell—those memories and perceptions, personal and cultural mythologies which define us as human. From ancient Greek gods to Hollywood movie stars, Huston’s poems explore a wide variety of subjects, but frequently return to 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.” She received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association for her collection of the same title. Her 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.
Of her poetry, author and critic 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.”
Publisher and poet Tom Montag praises Huston’s portrayals 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.”
Reviewing Huston’s Grief Bone, former Poet Laureate of Madison, Sarah Sadie Busse writes, “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.”
A lifelong resident of the state, Huston is a graduate of West Salem High School. She has earned two degrees from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (BS-education. MA-English, Creative Writing). She 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 an active force in the Wisconsin writing community. 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 serves on the board of the Council for Wisconsin Writers 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 which offers a creative environment to encourage the growth of the literary community and provides learning opportunities for writers at all levels. Huston also regularly contributes to the Fox Cities Book Festival as an organizer of the festival’s poetry events.
A dynamic presenter, Huston enjoys speaking to the public about the public value of poetry and the arts. Recent appearances include the UW Whitewater High School Creative Writing Festival, Menasha Rotary luncheon, Mt. Mary University Leadership Institute, and The Great Lakes Writers Festival at Lakeland University.
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 & Projects: 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 am looking forward to meeting people across the state and making new connections around poetry and the arts.” Most important is her desire to nurture the growth of poetry reading and writing as part of various statewide Memory Café projects; this ground-breaking program brings together people who suffer from mild memory loss and dementia, along with their caregivers, to celebrate and collaborate in creativity and storytelling. Huston will travel across Wisconsin, facilitating these events, working to build community around the restorative potential of poetry and the arts. “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.”