About Dallas John Baker


I am a writer. It's a bold statement but one that I feel confident to make. I write in the shorter forms mainly - short stories, essays, short travelogues, poetry and academic papers - but I have also just finished a memoir and a novel (to come out soon). I have studied writing at university, something that has taught me much about the practice, appreciation and teaching of writing. I have a Masters in Writing and have just finished a PhD in writing at Griffith University. I work as an academic in writing, editing and publishing at the University of Southern Queensland.

I mainly write under the name Dallas John Baker, but when I first started writing, in the 1980s and under the influence of post-punk synth pop, I did a lot of performance art and poetry under the nom de plume "Dallas Angguish". I still occasionally use the name, when I'm having regressive 80s moments. I have often been asked about this name (Is that you're real name?) and discuss it in my (infrequent) blog.

Here's my official Biographical note:

Dallas John Baker is a writer based in Australia. He has been published in a number of journals including TEXT, Lodestar Quarterly, Retort Magazine, Bukker Tillibul and Polari Journal. His work has also appeared in the anthologies Bend, Don’t Shatter (2004), and Dumped (2000 and US edition 2002). A collection of Dallas Angguish’s short works, Anywhere But Here was published in 2006 and received very positive reviews. His collection America Divine: Travels in the Hidden South was published by Phosphor Books. Dallas has a PhD in Writing from Griffith University and is an academic in Editing & Publishing and Creative Writing at the University of Southern Queensland, in Toowoomba.

According to Wikipedia, which we all know is terribly reliable, I have been "described as Truman Capote's literary heir and as reminiscent of Carson McCullers, the much lauded Southern Gothic writer." As flattering as that is I would, of course, prefer to see myself as highly unique, as unlike any other writer, but my debt to Capote and McCullers is both substantial and obvious. They are the writers that I truly love and who have deeply influenced me. But I have been influenced by other writers as well, notably David Malouf, Edmund White and Allen Ginsberg. I really love reading biography. The three best biographies ever written are: 1. Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke; 2. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers; 3. Tom: The Unknown Tennesse Williams by Lyle Leverich. I have also truly loved the fantasy fiction of Anne Rice, J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. A mixed bag, but all of them exceptional wordsmiths.

I was born and raised in Toowoomba, Queensland (pictured above), also known as the Garden City. Usually when I tell people this they say something like "Oh, how awful for you!" or "I'm so sorry" or "My God! How did you survive?" This gets my back up a bit. In case you don't know, Toowoomba has a reputation for beautiful parks and gardens; and for extreme racism, sexism and homophobia. It stands apart as one of the few Australian towns with a Ku Klux Klan presence. Indeed, there has even been a recent KKK linked homicide. Thus, I am an exile from my hometown.

Although Toowoomba is not exactly Disneyland for people like me, it still occupies a significant place in my heart and mind. I have a lot of affection for the place and it often features in my writing, see the Online Writing page for some examples.
Growing up in Toowoomba - known for its hauntings and its over-abundance of psychics, tarot card readers and spiritual healers - it was probably inevitable that my first career was as a playground shaman, telling fortunes over spilt milk, holding seances in the attic, trying to get spirits to levitate Coca-cola bottles. Toowoomba is said to be one of the most haunted places in Australia. The historic cemetery (pictured right) is also supposedly frequented by black magicians and zombies!! Not surprisignly, my flirtation with a paranormal career ended abruptly when a growing superstitious fear surpassed my childhood curiosity. In other words, I turned yellow.

I then turned to the visual arts and produced a multitude of works in crayon that have since been lost. An ongoing investigation continues as to my mother's likely involvement in their destruction. At the age of eighteen, under the influence of a dark herb, I turned my hand to poetry and that, as they say, was that. I have now been writing - poetry, short stories, screenplays and the like - for some time. It remains difficult and, for the most part, socially unacceptable.

My mystical bent did not just go away however, I have always had a fascination for Eastern religions (mainly Buddhism), and that has stuck. My fascination for all things Eastern culminated in my taking vows in the Buddhist monastic tradition (I'm the white guy in the photo to the right below). As a Buddhist, I am known as Pema. I remained in this (celibate) guise for five years until I realized that it was making me more repressed and rule-bound rather than less. Buddhism is still core to my life but I now practice it as a lived philosophy, a heart practice, rather than a 'religion'. I took the vows of a ngakpa (a kind of non-celibate "minister" in the Tibetan tradition) and soon after that, around 2006, I was encouraged to teach dharma but have not done much of the teaching thing as I am neither a Buddhist scholar nor a great meditator. I am currently the Buddhist chaplain in the Multi-Faith Service at the University of Southern Queensland.

With Khenchen Rinpoche in ALice Springs, while still living as a monk
Wearing Ngakpa robes after tantrika ordination (2006)

I often say that I swim in a shallow gene pool, a bit like the creature from the black lagoon, because I live with a few inherited illnesses. The opposit is, in fact, true. My gene pool is pretty wide and deep. My mother's ancestry is English, Welsh, German and Chinese. My father's family are of English and Scottish descent. Of all of these, I feel a stronger connection to the Scottish side of things. I am strongly drawn to the ancestral stomping grounds of my father's Scottish progenitors who were farmers in Muirshearlich (pictured below) and feel a "spiritual" connection to Celtic culture.

Although I live in Australia, I consider the USA one of my other "spiritual" homes. I'm not sure why, I just do. I have a particular love of the South - perhaps because Toowoomba is not unlike a younger, antipodean version of Savannah Georgia - but also because I first experienced the South through the writing of authors I love: Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty et al. I have visited the South a number of times (see my photographs below) and have written about these visits in my book America Divine.

I have a partner who is a great support and my best friend. I live with two cats, so you could say that I suffer with Feline Stockholm Syndrome. In other words, my life is subjugated to the will of my cat masters - one named Coltrane (top below), who is beautiful and treats me with contempt, and one named Yeshe, who is 10% fluff and 90% claws and fangs. He is also insane. I love my kooky kitties and stupidly believe that they love me back.

You can catch up with me on Facebook or Twitter (@DallasJohnBaker).

P.S: That's me in the picture below. Swanning about in a cemetery as usual.