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Last updated: 23 August 2017

Baxter, James K (1926-1972)

Collection | Ref # ZARCH 251 | Held by Heritage Collections, Dunedin Public Library

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Baxter, James K (1926-1972)


Baxter, James K (1926-1972)

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1 folder

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James Keir Baxter is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated poets. He was born in Dunedin to Archibald Baxter and Millicent Brown, and grew up near Brighton, 20 km south of the city. He began writing poetry at an early age, and published his first collection in 1944, aged just 17. After failing to complete course work at the University of Otago, partly because of alcoholism, he later trained as a teacher and studied at Victoria University. He received a BA in 1956.

In addition to reflecting a new religious perspective on life, his writing began to take a more critical view of New Zealand society, especially after he received a 1958 UNESCO stipend that allowed him to travel extensively in Asia.

During the next decade, Baxter wrote both poems and drama while accepting a Robert Burns Fellowship from the University of Otago. His radio play, Jack Winter’s Dream, won him international renown. In 1968, however, a dream instructed him to go to “Jerusalem.” Persuaded by his vision, Baxter gave up his job to move to a small Māori settlement known as Hiruharama, or “Jerusalem,” on the Whanganui River.

For the remaining years of his life, Baxter lived sparsely in the Māori settlement, writing poetry that explored his strong social and political convictions, but the harsh deprivations Baxter adopted at this time took their toll on his health. After his death in 1972, aged 46, Baxter was buried at Jerusalem on Māori land, with a ceremony combining both Māori and Catholic traditions.

In 1948 he had married Jacqueline Sturm, and they had one son. They divorced in 1957.

Scope & Content:
Poetry as Bush Carpentry, by James K Baxter: a photocopy of a typed address by Baxter, given to the University of Otago Literary Society, in the hall at St Margaret’s College, 1 July, 1957 (16pp)

Dates covered:

1957 - 1957

Access conditions:

No restrictions.

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Brighton · Dunedin

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