Dennis Haskell was born into a working class family in the western suburbs of Sydney; his father was a carpenter (d.1983) and his mother a florist. He attended primary schools in Croydon, Auburn West and Berala, before going on to Homebush Boys High School. He completed a Commerce degree at the University of New South Wales and worked as an accountant or lecturer in business studies for almost a decade, in Sydney and London. He travelled and lived in Europe and North America for two years from late-1970, marrying in London in 1972. He and his wife, Rhonda, who was also from Sydney, returned to the city in late-1972.
Haskell began an Arts degree at Sydney University in 1973, studying English and Philosophy; during this time he lectured and tutored in Commerce at UNSW. He broke with accounting when he became a Tutor in English at Sydney University in 1977, completing his PhD (on W B Yeats) in English in 1980 (awarded in 1981). He moved to Perth to take up a lectureship at The University of Western Australia in 1984. He eventually became a Professor of English and Cultural Studies at UWA and held many committee and management positions, including Deputy Dean of the Arts Faculty and Chair of Academic Board. On his retirement a symposium on “Creative Writing and its Contexts” was convened by the Westerly Centre, UWA and the Association for the Study of Australian Literature in his honour.
He and Rhonda had two sons. Rhonda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June 2006 and Dennis took early retirement in July 2011; she died in February 2012. His book of poetry, Ahead of Us (2016) describes the cancer experience; all royalties from the book go to the Cancer Council of WA.
Dennis has worked across the whole range of research activities in English studies: journal and book editing, bibliography, literary scholarship, literary criticism, and creative writing. Although his main interest is in poetry, it is not exclusively so, and his work covers Australian, American, Asian, English, and Irish literature. It includes work on classic authors such as John Keats, W B Yeats, and Kenneth Slessor, and contemporary writing on which there is little or no previous research. He has worked with another colleague, as part of a large team, and individually. His interests range from technical aspects of literary language and craft to philosophical and social issues. He has been at the forefront of literary representations of Australian-Asian interactions and of the use of manuscripts for literary critical analysis.
From 1985-2011 he was co-editor of Westerly magazine and is currently a member of the Management Committee of the Westerly Centre.
Professor Haskell has served in numerous other roles in the literary and academic worlds. In 2009 he was invited by the Federal Minister for the Arts to chair the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts for three years, which also meant becoming a Board member of the Australia Council. He is a past Director of Australian Poetry Ltd, and is currently Chair of writingWA, Western Australia’s peak writing body.
Dennis has regularly delivered papers at academic conferences and to community groups, and he has given many invited readings of his own poetry, at various venues (ranging from universities to hotels and trains) and events (including conferences and literary festivals), in many locations, including Armidale, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Perth, Sydney, Townsville, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy (in both English and Italian), Scotland, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, The Philippines and the USA.
He has been a visiting professor at universities in England (Cambridge University), France, Germany, Hong Kong, The Philippines (University of The Philippines), Singapore, Thailand and the USA (Georgetown University).
His papers are held in the National Library of Australia and the Reid Library, UWA.