Paula Huston

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Paula Huston
Born Paula Dahl
(1952-04-25) April 25, 1952 (age 66)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Occupation Author
Nationality American
Alma mater Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Period 1983 - present (first published novel - 1995)
Genre Nonfiction, Fiction
Spouse Michael Huston

Paula Huston (born April 25, 1952) is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and creative nonfiction writer.


Paula Huston was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the eldest of five children of Lyle and Solveig Dahl, and grew up in Long Beach, California, where she attended Millikan High School. She married her first husband a year after graduation, and in 1973, they moved to the San Luis Obispo area, where she began writing and publishing short stories. Her daughter, Andrea, was born in 1977, and her son, John, arrived in 1978. Divorced in the early 1980s, she married Michael Huston in 1985. With his encouragement, she enrolled at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in her mid-thirties, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in British and American Literature, going on to teach in the Cal Poly English Department for the next twelve years. In 1994 she became a Catholic, and in 1999, a Camaldolese Benedictine oblate (a vowed lay member of the contemplative monastic community of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur).[1]

Her first novel, Daughters of Song, was published in 1995. In 1999 she helped design and implement the California State University Consortium Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, in which she taught for the next three years. When the program ended in 2002, she took an early retirement from Cal Poly to become a full-time writer, speaker and retreat leader. She currently serves as a creative nonfiction mentor for the Seattle Pacific University MFA program. She and her husband live on four acres on the Central Coast of California, where they keep chickens and bees; maintain fruit trees, a raised bed vegetable garden, and an olive orchard; and spend a lot of time with their four young grandchildren.[1]


Before her conversion to Catholicism and subsequent vows as a contemplative oblate, Huston wrote literary fiction for fifteen years, often with artist protagonists or themes involving art. Her first novel, Daughters of Song—a book that James Bready of the Baltimore Sun said was the "best book yet" about life at the famed Peabody Conservatory—is a coming-of-age story about a young piano prodigy.[2] Huston’s short story "Pilgrimage" involves a lonely woman reconciling herself to the cold relationship she always had with her famous and now-dead pianist father. "The Cattle Raid of Cooley" features a literature professor who struggles with, and at times acts upon, sexual fantasies about his students.

Post-conversion, she began using the techniques of literary fiction to write about religious faith. In her first project, Signatures of Grace: Catholic Writers on the Sacraments, she and co-editor Tom Grady asked seven prominent literary writers, including novelist Ron Hansen, poet Paul Mariani, novelist Mary Gordon, and essayist Patricia Hampl, to each contribute a long personal essay about one of the Catholic sacraments. In its starred review of the collection, Publishers Weekly said, "For Catholics, this volume is a treasure. For those outside the Church, the essays reveal, as no catechism ever could, why Catholics are drawn to these ‘signs signifying grace.’"[3] Convinced there was an audience for literary writers of faith, Huston went on to write six books of spiritual creative nonfiction, including The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life, a narrative account of the spiritual practices she learned from her association with the monks of New Camaldoli. A Catholic Book Club main selection, The Holy Way prompted Doris Donnelly, reviewer for America, to say, "Paula Huston has much in common with Kathleen Norris and Henri Nouwen, two major stars in the constellation of contemporary writers on the spiritual journey… she appears to have the integrity, insight, and originality necessary to make her own important contribution as a credible witness to what happens when God is chosen as the center of one’s life".[4]

In 2013, she published her second novel, A Land Without Sin, about a hardened young battlefield photojournalist seeking her missing priest brother in the jungles of Central America. Novelist Valerie Sayers, writing for Commonweal, said of the book, "A Land Without Sin succeeds in considering the thorniest problems religious believers face--atrocity, despair, the nature of evil--without moralizing or over-simplifying. It’s deeply engaging and impressive in its range, and for the most part it manages to keep its many narrative balls spinning gracefully. Perhaps most crucial to its success is a full and intelligent probing of an atheist’s perspective--narrated by a complex, sharp, and dynamic female voice whose rue and wit inject healthy doses of irony and skepticism as needed".[5]

In Huston’s One Ordinary Sunday: A Meditation on the Mystery of the Mass, she returns to narrative spiritual nonfiction to explain the historical roots and theological meaning of each element of the Catholic Mass. Poet and biographer Paul Mariani writes of the book that Huston has managed to "capture in a single summer Sunday Mass what millions of Catholics and those interested in Catholicism have experienced many times over . . . Her worries are our worries, her doubts our doubts, her convictions our convictions, beautifully rendered and surprised by joy. . . To say I loved this book would be an understatement."


  • A Land Without Sin (Slant, 2013).
  • Daughters of Song (Random House, 1995).



  • One Ordinary Sunday: A Meditation on the Mystery of the Mass (Ave Maria Press, forthcoming, March 2016)
  • A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life (Loyola Press, 2012).
  • Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit (Ave Maria Press, 2011).
  • Forgiveness: Following Jesus Into Radical Loving (Paraclete Press, 2009).
  • By Way of Grace: Moving from Faithfulness to Holiness (Loyola Press, 2007).
  • The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life (Loyola Press, 2003).

Co-editor and contributor[edit]

  • Signatures of Grace: Catholic Writers on the Sacraments, contributed to the essay "Matrimony" (Dutton, 2000)

Selected short stories[edit]

  • "Pilgrimage," Image, Spring 2010.[6]
  • "The Cattle Raid of Cooley," Image, Spring 2003.[7]
  • "Serenissma," Missouri Review, Winter 1996[8]
  • "A Misery of Love," Story Autumn 1993.
  • "Mercy," American Short Fiction,[9] " Autumn 1992.
  • "War Story," North American Review," June 1989.[10]
  • "Swimmer," Massachusetts Review, Summer 1984 (written under name "Paula Keisler").[11]
  • "The Bouzouki," Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1983.
  • "The Singing of Angels," MSS, Fall 1983.

Selected essays[edit]

  • "God Amid the Materialism," The Christian Century, March 2015[12]
  • "Of Monks and Men," The Christian Century, March 2014[13]
  • "Attending to the Light," Image, June 2013[14]
  • "Falling Into Prayer," The Christian Century, December 2012[15]
  • "Wake-Up Call," Christian Century, January 2010[16]
  • "Grounded in God-Words," Geez, Fall 2009[17]
  • "Bearing Light," Image, Fall 2008[18]
  • "The Kingdom of the Eternal Heaven," Image, Spring 2008[19]
  • "Salvation Work-Out," The Christian Century, April 2008[20]
  • "Grace," Geez, Spring 2007[21]
  • "The Art of Believing in Things Unseen," America, March 2007
  • "Confession," Geez, Winter 2007.[22]

Selected lectures and retreats[edit]

  • "Writing as Spiritual Formation," Festival of Faith and Writing, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, April 19, 2012
  • "Preparing Ourselves for Lent," Ignatian Center, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California, January 25, 2012 [23]
  • "Focusing On Forgiveness," Renovare Leadership Conference, St. Francis in the Fields Episcopalian Church, Louisville, Kentucky, February 18–20, 2011[24]
  • "Salvation Work-Out," Valle Crucis Conference Center, bishop and clergy of the Episcopalian Diocese of Western South Carolina, March 14–16, 2011
  • "To Pray Without Ceasing: A Contemplative Path for Post-Modern Pilgrims," World Community for Christian Meditation Center, Westchester, California, January 16, 2011[25]
  • "Can Christian Forgiveness Be Reconciled with the Death Penalty?" Newman University, Wichita, Kansas, April 2010[26]
  • "The Impossible Art of Forgiving" and "Praying Like a Monk," Los Angeles Catholic Religious Education Congress, March 2010[27]
  • "The Death of Reason" (Newman Lecture) Oregon State University, Corvalis, Oregon, Fall 2006[28]
  • "Simplifying Life," (Newman Lecture), Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, California, Spring 2001.

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Chrysostom Society Member, 2013–present[29]
  • A Season of Mystery, Top Fifty Books of 2012, Spirituality and Practice.[30]
  • Simplifying the Soul, #1 Amazon Easter and Lenten Book Lists, 2012
  • "The Kingdom of the Eternal Heaven," Best Spiritual Writing, 2010 [31]
  • Forgiveness, Library Journal starred review, 2009
  • The Holy Way, Catholic Press Association Award, 2004
  • The Holy Way, Bronze Medal for Religious Book of the Year, ForeWord Magazine, 2003
  • The Holy Way, Catholic Book Club Main selection, America, 2004
  • Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly for The Holy Way[32] and Signatures of Grace[3]
  • Signatures of Grace, Boston Globe’s "Dean’s List," 2000.
  • National Screening Committee, Fulbright Awards in Creative Writing, 2000.
  • Walter Dakin Fellowship, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, 1997.
  • Daughters of Song, Christian Science Monitor’s Novelist Debut review, 1995
  • National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing, 1994.
  • "A Misery of Love," Best American Short Stories 100 Distinguished Stories of 1994.
  • "Mercy," Best American Short Stories 100 Distinguished Stories of 1993.

Anthologized work[edit]

  • "The Buried Life: Bede Griffiths," Not Less than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero (HarperOne, 2013).
  • "The Kingdom of the Eternal Heaven," Best Spiritual Essays, (Viking, 2010).
  • "The Sacrament of Matrimony," Faith at the Edge: A New Generation of Catholic Writers Reflects on Life, Love, Sex, and Other Mysteries (Ave Maria Press, 2008).
  • "In Glad Expectancy," Take Heart: Catholic Writers on Hope in Our Time (Crossroads Press, 2007).


  1. ^ a b Huston, Paula. "About". Paula Huston. 
  2. ^ Bready, James. "Books of the region: Hot beach novels". The Baltimore Sun. 
  3. ^ a b Books, Dutton. "Signatures of Grace: Catholic Writers on the Sacraments". Publisher's Weekly. 
  4. ^ Donnelly, Doris. "From Here to Serenity". America: The National Catholic Review. 
  5. ^ Sayers, Valerie. "The Shape of Evil". Commonweal. 
  6. ^ "Back Issues: Issue 65". Image. 
  7. ^ "Back Issues: Issue 39". Image. 
  8. ^ "19.1 (Spring 1996): "To the Edge"". The Missouri Review. 
  9. ^ "About". American Short Fiction. 
  10. ^ Huston, Paula. "War Story". JSTOR 25125072. 
  11. ^ "Table of Contents 1980-1989: VOLUME 25, ISSUE 2". The Massachusetts Review. 
  12. ^ Huston, Paula. "God amid materialism". The Christian Century. 
  13. ^ Huston, Paula. "Of monks and men". The Christian Century. 
  14. ^ "Back Issues: Issue 77". Image. 
  15. ^ Huston, Paula. "Falling into prayer: Bede Griffith's pilgrimage and mine". The Christian Century. 
  16. ^ Huston, Paula. "Wake-up call: A midlife spiritual challenge". The Christian Century. 
  17. ^ "The Slippery Issue: Issue 15, Fall 2009". geez magazine. 
  18. ^ "Back Issues: Issue 60". Image. 
  19. ^ "Back Issues: Issue 57". Image. 
  20. ^ Huston, Paula. "Salvation workout: How I found the virtues". The Christian Century. 
  21. ^ "Humanity Has Big Issues: Issue 5, Spring 2007". geez magazine. 
  22. ^ "The Future of Food in an Urbanized World: Issue 8, Winter 2007". geez magazine. 
  23. ^ "Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit". Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education. 
  24. ^ "Author Paula Huston to give lecture series on forgiveness". St. Mary's Episcopal Church. 
  25. ^ "To Pray Without Ceasing: A Contemplative Path for Post-Modern Pilgrims". Facebook - Friends of Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Westchester (Los Angeles) CA. 
  26. ^ "Author Paula Huston on forgiveness and the death penalty". The Gerber Institute for Catholic Studies. 
  27. ^ "Religious Education Congress: March 19-21, 2010 (Congress days)". 2010 RECongress Closed Workshops. 
  28. ^ "Author, Spiritualist Paula Huston to Give Newman Lecture at OSU". Oregon State University. 
  29. ^ "Paula Huston". Chrysostom Society. 
  30. ^ "S&P Awards: The Best Spiritual Books of 2012". Spirituality and Practice. 
  31. ^ Zaleski, Philip. "The Best Spiritual Writing 2010". 
  32. ^ Books, Dutton. "THE HOLY WAY: Practices for a Simple Life". Publisher's Weekly. 

External links[edit]