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Henry Charles Bukowski (August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was a German- Americanmarker poet, novelist, and short story writer. Bukowski's writing was heavily influenced by the geography and atmosphere of his home city of Los Angelesmarker, and is marked by an emphasis on the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. A prolific author, Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels, eventually having over 60 books in print. In 1986 Time called Bukowski a "laureate of American lowlife."

Early years

Bukowski was born as Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernachmarker, Germanymarker to Heinrich Bukowski and Katharina Fett. His mother was a native Germanmarker who met his father, an American serviceman, after World War I had ended. Bukowski's parents were Roman Catholic. He was fond of claiming that he had been born out of wedlock, but Andernach records show that his parents were in fact married a month prior to his birth.

After the collapse of the German economy following the First World War, the family moved to the United Statesmarker in 1923, originally settling in Baltimore, Marylandmarker. To sound more American, Bukowski's parents began calling him "Henry" and altered the pronunciation of the family name from Buk-ov-ski to Buk-cow-ski (the surname is of Slavic origin). After saving money, the family moved to South Los Angelesmarker in 1930, where his father's family lived. During Bukowski's childhood, his father was often unemployed, and Bukowski claimed that his father was violent, later described in his novel Ham on Rye.

Bukowski was bullied by Anglo neighbor children who mocked his German last name and the German-style clothing that his parents insisted he wear. During his youth Bukowski was socially inept and withdrawn - a condition later exacerbated by an extreme case of acne.

In his early teens Bukowski had an epiphany when he was introduced to alcohol by his friend William "Baldy" Mullinax, son of an alcoholic surgeon. "This [alcohol] is going to help me for a very long time," he later wrote, describing the genesis of his chronic alcoholism; or, as he saw it, the genesis of a method he could utilize to come to more amicable terms with his own life.

After graduating from Los Angeles High School, Bukowski attended Los Angeles City College for two years, taking courses in art, journalism, and literature.

On July 22, 1944, with World War II still raging, Bukowski was arrested by FBImarker agents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker, where he was living at the time, on suspicion of draft evasion and was held for 17 days in Philadelphia's Moyamensing Prison. Sixteen days later he failed a physical psychological exam and was given a Selective Service Class of 4-F (unfit for military service).

Early writing

At 24, Bukowski's short story "Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip" was published in Story magazine. Two years later, another short story, "20 Tanks From Kasseldown," was published in Portfolio III's broadside collection. Failing to break into the literary world, Bukowski grew disillusioned with the publication process and quit writing for almost a decade, a time that he has referred to as a "ten-year-drunk." These "lost years" formed the basis for his later autobiographical chronicles, although the veracity of his accounts has been frequently called into question. During part of this period he continued living in Los Angeles, working at a pickle factory for a short time, but also spent some time roaming about the United Statesmarker, working sporadically and staying in cheap rooming houses. In the early 1950s Bukowski took a job as a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service in Los Angeles, but resigned just before three years service.

In 1955, he was hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer which was nearly fatal. When he left the hospital, he began to write poetry. In 1957, he agreed to marry small-town Texas poet Barbara Frye, sight unseen, but they divorced in 1959. Frye insisted that their separation had nothing to do with literature, though she often doubted his skill as a poet. According to Howard Sounes's "Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life" she later died under mysterious circumstances in Indiamarker (some said she was decapitated by religious zealots belonging to an obscure cult). Following his divorce, Bukowski continued drinking and writing poetry.


By 1960 he had returned to the post office in Los Angeles, where he continued to work as a letter filing clerk for over a decade. In 1962 Bukowski was traumatized by the death of Jane Cooney Baker. She had been his first real romantic attachment. Bukowski turned his grief and devastation into a powerful series of poems and stories lamenting her passing. Jane is considered to be the greatest love of his life and was the most important in a long series of 'Muses' who inspired his writing, according to biographers Jory Sherman, Souness, Brewer, and Harrison . In 1964, a daughter, Marina Louise Bukowski, was born to Bukowski and his then live-in girlfriend Frances Smith, whom he fondly referred to as a "white-haired hippy", "shack-job" and "old snaggle-tooth".

Jon and Louise Webb, now recognized as giants of the post-war 'small-press movement', published The Outsider literary magazine and featured some of Bukowski's poetry. Under the Loujon Press imprint, they published Bukowski's It Catches My Heart In Its Hands (1963), and Crucifix in a Deathhand, in 1965.

Beginning in 1967, Bukowski wrote the column "Notes of A Dirty Old Man" for Los Angeles' Open City, an underground newspaper. When Open City was shut down in 1969, the column was picked up by the Los Angeles Free Press along with NOLA Express in New Orleansmarker, Louisianamarker. In 1969, Bukowski and his friend Neeli Cherkovski launched their own mimeographed literary magazine, Laugh Literary and Man the Humping Guns. They produced three issues over the next two years. The magazine had no effect whatsoever on their careers or literature, and is only remembered because of Bukowski's association with it.

Black Sparrow years

In 1969, he accepted an offer from Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin and quit his post office job to dedicate himself to full-time writing. He was then 49 years old. As he explained in a letter at the time, "I have one of two choices — stay in the post office and go crazy ... or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve." Less than one month after leaving the postal service, he finished his first novel, Post Office. As a measure of respect for Martin's financial support and faith in a then relatively unknown writer, Bukowski published almost all of his subsequent major work with Black Sparrow Press, although, an avid supporter of the small independent presses, he continued to submit poems and short stories to thousands of small presses until the time of his death.

With increasing notoriety and growing fame, Bukowski embarked on a series of love affairs and one-night stands. His most important relationships were with Linda King, a poet and sculptress, Liza Williams, a recording executive, and Pamela O'Brien AKA "Cupcakes"(dubbed by her friends because of her size 38D chest), a red-headed single mother. All of these relationships provided material for his stories and poems. Another important relationship was with "Tanya", pseudonym of "Amber O'Neil" (also a pseudonym), described in Bukowski's "Women" as a pen-pal that evolved into a week-end tryst at Bukowski's modest DeLongpre residence in L.A. in the 1970s. "Amber O'Neil" later wrote a book about the affair entitled "Blowing My Hero". The book was not published due to inclusion of several love letters written by Bukowski.

Charles Bukowski in 1990
In 1976, Bukowski met Linda Lee Beighle, a health food restaurant owner, aspiring actress and devotee of Meher Baba, leader of an Indian religious society. Two years later, Bukowski moved from the East Hollywoodmarker area, where he had lived for most of his life, to the harborside community of San Pedro, the southernmost district of the City of Los Angeles. Beighle followed him and they lived together intermittently over the next two years, Bukowski sometimes tiring (he said) of the relationship and sending her on her way. They were eventually married by Manly Palmer Hall, a Canadian-born author and mystic, in 1985. Beighle is referred to as "Sara" in Bukowski's novels Women and Hollywood.


Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994, in San Pedro, California, at the age of 73, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp. The funeral rites, orchestrated by his widow, were conducted by Buddhist monks. An account of the proceedings can be found in Gerald Locklin's book Charles Bukowski: A Sure Bet.

His gravestone reads: "Don't Try", a phrase which Bukowski uses in one of his poems, advising aspiring writers and poets about inspiration and creativity. Bukowski explains the phrase in a 1963 letter to John William Corrington as follows: 'Somebody at one of these places ... asked me: "What do you do? How do you write, create?" You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.'

In 2007 and 2008, there was a movement to save Bukowski's bungalow from destruction. The movement was led online by Beatdom magazine, and was ultimately successful, with the bungalow listed as a historic property.


Bukowski published extensively in small literary magazines and with small presses beginning in the early 1940s and continuing on through the early 1990s, with the poems and stories being later republished by Black Sparrow Press (now HarperCollins/ECCO) as collected volumes of his work. In the 1980s, he collaborated with illustrator Robert Crumb on a series of comic books, with Bukowski writing and Crumb providing the artwork.

Bukowski also performed live readings of his works, beginning in 1962 on radio station KPFKmarker in Los Angeles and increasing frequency through the 1970s. He agreed to live readings as a source of income, but they took a toll on his writing and health. Heavy drinking was a featured part of the readings, along with a combative banter with the audience. By the late 1970s Bukowski's income was sufficient to give up live readings. His last international reading was given in in October 1979 in Vancouver, BC, which was video taped and released on DVD as It's Gonna be a God Damn Riot in Here. In March 1980 he gave his very last reading at the Sweetwater club in Redondo Beach, which was video taped and recorded - released as Hostage on audio CD and The Last Straw on DVD.

Bukowski acknowledged Anton Chekhov, James Thurber, Franz Kafka, Knut Hamsun, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, John Fante, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Robinson Jeffers, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, D. H. Lawrence, Antonin Artaud, E.E. Cummings, and others as influences, and often spoke of Los Angeles as his favorite subject. In a 1974 interview he said, "You live in a town all your life, and you get to know every bitch on the street corner and half of them you have already messed around with. You've got the layout of the whole land. You have a picture of where you are.... Since I was raised in L.A., I've always had the geographical and spiritual feeling of being here. I've had time to learn this city. I can't see any other place than L.A."

One critic has described Bukowski's fiction as a "detailed depiction of a certain taboo male fantasy: the uninhibited bachelor, slobby, anti-social, and utterly free", an image he tried to live up to with sometimes riotous public poetry readings and boorish party behavior. Since his death in 1994, Bukowski has been the subject of a number of critical articles and books about both his life and writings. His work has received relatively little attention from academic critics. ECCO continues to release new collections of his poetry, culled from the thousands of works published in small literary magazines. According to ECCO, the 2007 release The People Look Like Flowers At Last will be his final posthumous release as now all his once-unpublished work has been published.

Bukowski: Born Into This, a film documenting the author's life, was released in 2003. It features contributions from Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton and Bono (U2's song "Dirty Day" was dedicated to Charles Bukowski when released in 1993). Bukowski is known to have disliked Bono, calling him a "millionaire rock-star, a part of the establishment regardless of what he says".

In 1981, the Italian director Marco Ferreri made a film, Tales of Ordinary Madness, based on the short stories of Bukowski. Ben Gazzara played the role of Bukowski's character. Bukowski was said to have disliked the film.

In 1987, the film Barfly was released, starring Mickey Rourke as Henry Chinaski (Bukowski) and Faye Dunaway as Wanda Wilcox (his lover). Sean Penn had offered to play the part of Chinaski (Bukowski) for as little as a dollar as long as his friend Dennis Hopper would provide direction. But the European director Barbet Schroeder had invested many years and thousands of dollars in the project and Bukowski felt Shroeder deserved to make it. Mickey Rourke was ultimately chosen to play Chinaski. During filming Bukowski said of Rourke; "Mickey Rourke is a real human guy, on and off the set. And in Barfly he really came through with the acting. I felt his enjoyment and inventiveness."

A film adaptation of Factotum, starring Matt Dillon, was released in 2005.

In June 2006, Bukowski's literary archive was donated by his widow to the Huntington Librarymarker, in San Marino, Californiamarker. Copies of all editions of his work published by the Black Sparrow Press are held at Western Michigan Universitymarker, which purchased the archive of the publishing house after its closure in 2003.

See also

The True Story of C. Bukowski's Liver (in italian: La Vera Storia del Fegato di C. Bukowski) is the first novel came out in Italy by the young poet Emanuele Podestà.




Short story collections


Major Biographies


  • Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life by Howard Sounes (Grove Press, 1999)
  • Aaron Krumhansl - A Descriptive Bibliography of the Primary Publications of Charles Bukowski (Black Sparrow Press, 1999)
  • Sanford Dorbin - A Bibliography of Charles Bukowski (Black Sparrow Press, 1969)
  • University of Southern California Department of Special Collections

External links

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