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Jun 27, 2024 by Marc Peruzzi
Photograph Pam LeBlanc

Meet a Creative: Dan Oko

FREELANCE WRITER

Home Base / Houston, Texas

Activities / Fly fishing and inshore light tackle, backpacking, gravel riding, skiing, canoeing, and road-tripping

Why Dan:

In 1990, Dan Oko was a recent college graduate living in Seattle with dual degrees in Creative Writing and Philosophy. Environmental debates were blowing up in Washington state with battles over spotted owls and old-growth forests, challenges to urban development, and a new proposal to bring grizzly bears back to the North Cascades. 

“I was bartending nights, mountain biking, skiing, backpacking, and reading Edward Abbey,” says Dan. That’s when he got a call. A band of merry pranksters who had sold their stake in a start-up humor rag called The Onion needed reporters and critics for their new alt-weekly The Stranger. “I found I could combine my passions in the pages of this irreverent weekly newspaper,” says Dan.

Later, he decamped for Missoula, Montana, where he joined the college town’s feisty weekly Missoula Independent. The job provided a crash course in beat reporting—and led to a fly-fishing addiction. After notching bylines in leading outdoor magazines such as Outside and Men’s Journal, as well as conservation-associated publications Trout and Audubon, Dan decided to hang out his freelance shingle. In the years since, his career has carried him across the Himalayas in Bhutan and India, the Australian Outback, the Italian Dolomites, Cuba, and adventure outposts throughout the United States. 

Today, Dan calls Texas home and contributes to various outlets, works on book projects, and writes for nonprofits like the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and Colorado River Land Trust. A Hence Journal contributor, Dan’s recent work has appeared in Adventure Journal, Texas Monthly, and AAA Explorer. Based in pancake flat Houston, Dan still considers himself a mountain guy. He and his wife have also raised their teenage daughter, an expert skier, avid surfer, and hunter, to embrace the wild. “I really like what Mike Rogge at Mountain Gazette recently told me,” says Dan. “You don’t have to live in the mountains to live a mountain lifestyle.”

Dan and daughter Ursula beach camping. Photo: Jonathan Vail Courtesy Dan Oko
Tactics and hours of practice can result in big fish—and winning stories. Photo: Courtesy Ursula Oko
Dan wraps up dawn patrol on the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Jonathan Vail Courtesy Dan Oko

Dan Oko has been writing feature stories and essays for me for nearly a decade now—initially for Texas Journey magazine, and now for AAA Explorer. Dan pitches timely and creative ideas and, more importantly, he delivers great stories based on those pitches. In recent years, he’s written about hiking the Appalachian Trail and paddling the Brazos River, and he has delivered thoughtful essays on a range of topics. He meets deadlines and handles edits with grace. In short, Dan is an editor’s dream.

Jim Benning Editor in Chief, Westways + AAA Explorer

Specialized Skills:

Keen senses of humor and empathy help Dan work with diverse sources, which comes in handy whether he’s visiting high-mountain villages in Bhutan or exploring the swampy backwaters of East Texas. “I studied philosophy in college and I’m averse to any argument that does not weigh both sides equally,” he says. Decades of travel writing and personal adventures have made Dan an expert planner, capable of organizing river trips, finding the best tacos, and keeping himself and his trip partners safe.

Exploring new ground helps freelancers find fresh perspectives. Photo: Brandon Clifton Courtesy Dan Oko

What's Next:

With a contract in hand from Deep Vellum publishing, Dan is hard at work completing a non-fiction manuscript about recreation along the Texas Coast, and what climate change means for the people and wild animals that call the Gulf of Mexico home. He also recently returned home from paddling Caddo Lake, exploring the largest bald cypress swamp in the world for a feature for AAA. A springtime surf adventure with his daughter Ursula is scheduled to appear in Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine later this year.