Rebel with a Cause

Comedian River Huston talks about Sex, Cellulite and Large Farm Equipment in a fund-raiser for The Writers Room in Doylestown, Pa.

By: Amy Brummer



River Huston occasionally performs with Buddy, her dog. Ms. Huston will
perform a fund-raiser Aug. 21 for The Writers Room in Doylestown, Pa.

   It’s one thing to laugh about cellulite. But loving it? That’s
a joke, right?
   For comedian River Huston, it is and it isn’t. In her one-woman
show, Sex, Cellulite and Large Farm Equipment, Ms. Huston isn’t looking
for the cheap laugh about a little extra padding. On the contrary, she is hoping
a little humor will go a long way toward learning to love the body you’ve got.
   Ms. Huston, a resident of Upper Black Eddy, Pa., will be performing
her show at Poco’s in Doylestown, Pa., Aug. 21 as a fund-raiser for The Writers
Room. A Bucks County Poet Laureate with two poetry books to her credit, Jesus
Never Lived Here and The Bones of Susan, Ms. Huston is also the author
of A Positive Life, a book of essays with photos by Mary Berridge documenting
women living with H.I.V.
   She is an active lecturer who has addressed communities, colleges
and high schools nationwide, informing audiences about the risks of alcohol use,
unsafe sex and issues of body image. While Ms. Huston has received national media
attention for her work, including an interview on National Public Radio’s All
Things Considered and a TV appearance on Good Morning America —
a profile of her life and work is scheduled to air on Showtime in the fall
— her celebrity has not been without controversy.
   In accepting the honor of poet laureate in 1996, she read her
poem "Death is for Dying" at a public meeting for the county commissioners. A
blunt statement about living life in the face of terminal illness, it caused a
significant flap within the commission that spurred a heated debate among officials
and poets about what constitutes acceptable subject matter. Although she removed
profanities for the reading, members of the commission still took issue with its
grim subject matter. While several poets defended Ms. Huston’s work for its bold
imagery and powerful use of language, others were not as supportive.
   A Philadelphia Inquirer article written in November 1995,
the week after the reading, quotes poet Ray Greenblatt: "There seem to be two
kinds of poets," he said, "the one who is screaming, ranting and raving and practically
making it up on the spot and the poet who thoughtfully sits and writes his poem."
But Ms. Huston, whose work falls into the first category, has no aspiration of
being a polite, cloistered bard, expounding on the virtues of nice things.
   "I think my poems are similar to songs," says Ms. Huston, who
has undergraduate degrees from Hunter College in music and health education, as
well as an honorary doctorate from Albright College. "Sometimes I have an upright
bass or conga drum playing with me, and it’s really slam poetry. I’m exploring
a lot of dark unknowns."
   Following on the heels of that furor, Ms. Huston caused a significant
stir at Diversity Day at Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough in March 1996.
During her lecture on safe sex, she shocked many audience members by demonstrating
how to put a condom on a banana using her mouth.
   "The problem wasn’t so much about the obscenity," Ms. Huston
says, "it was that I had too much fun doing it."
   And in that lies Ms. Huston’s joie de vivre. As a woman who
has battled alcohol abuse, low self-esteem and "several terminal illnesses," she
has emerged as a self-aware, edgy humorist who feeds her life force by sharing
her trials and adventures with her audience.
   "The humor allows people to identify with me instead of feeling
sorry for me," she says. "I usually try to have them laughing by the second brain
hemorrhage. I really feel that through humor we heal."
   But that is not to say her show is all about living with pain.
It is also about enjoying life, sometimes too much, and ultimately growing from
those experiences. She shares the whirlwind story of her life, wherein she has
been arrested for armed robbery, driven a taxi, been a bike messenger, an aerobics
instructor, a marijuana farmer, and a waitress.
   In one of her colorful stories, she recounts the tale of escaping
an island in the South Atlantic followed by 13 dogs and a goat. She was 17 years
old, a caretaker for the island, and out of cigarettes. She swam out to a passing
boat, followed by her canine charges, where she procured a carton of cigarettes.
Returning to shore, she realized that now she didn’t have any beer. So the next
day she waded out into the boat channel and hitched a ride to the mainland, where
she proceeded to have a blast of a time and even found a place to spend the night,
albeit the local jail.
   They are the kind of stories that people respond to by saying
"You should write a book." The writing came naturally to Ms. Huston, who found
it therapeutic to put her good times, low points, transgressions and triumphs
into words. It has also given her the kind of focus and discipline she needs to
use her personal struggle to help liberate others in theirs.
   "I write every day," she says. "I made a promise to myself that
no matter what time it was, 3 a.m., I would just do it. Once I started doing it
and I opened myself up to having people read my work, I realized that all I had
to do was say yes. Read a poem, yes, write a book, yes, submit the manuscript,
yes, write a column, yes."
   Her work led her to The Writers Room in Doylestown, where she
sought advice about putting a memoir together. She found the resources and support
to be overwhelmingly positive and will be publishing that book, Terminal Girl,
sometime in the near future.
   "I want people to pursue their dreams," Ms. Huston says, "especially
writing. (The Writers Room) is a place that can really help you move forward.
   "I want people to be free of all the things that hold them back.
Everybody has choices, and they can either be afraid or rise above. Our mind is
the biggest place we live and our limitations are all in our head. Fear is the
biggest thing that binds people."
River Huston will perform at Poco’s, 625 N. Main St., Doylestown, Pa., Aug.
21, 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25 at the door, $20 in advance. Audience members must
be over 21 with a valid I.D. to attend. For reservations, call (215) 348-1663,
or email For information, call Poco’s (215) 348-3424. On
the Web:
The Writers Room, 4 W. Oakland Ave., Doylestown, Pa., also will host Night
of the Roundtables, a fund-raising dinner party Sept. 13. Hosts are asked to
invite anywhere from 6 to 12 guests to their home, and The Writers Room will provide
an active writer from the community to discuss their work, the county’s literary
history and answer questions. Participants also will receive a copy of the Bucks
County Reader. $50 suggested donation per person. For information, call (215)
348-1663, or email: On the web: