(1920 - 1994)
American author of the second wave Beat Generation, noted for his stories of survival and heavy drinking on the fringe of society. Before starting his career as a writer, Bukowski worked in menial jobs and as a journalist at Harlequin and Laugh Literature. He was described by Jean Genet and Jean-Paul Sartre as America's 'greatest poet'. However, the author refused to meet Sartre - he had his bottle to take care of.
"There are so many," she said, "who go by the name of poet. But they have no training, no feeling for their craft. The savages have taken over the castle. There's no workmanship, no care, simply a demand to be accepted. And these new poet all seem to admire one another. It worries me and I've talked about it to a lot of my poet friends. All a young poet seems to think he needs is a typewriter and a few pieces of paper. They aren't prepared, they have had no preparation at all." (from Hot Water Music, 1995)
Heinrich Karl (Henry Charles) Bukowski, Jr. was born in Andernach in Germany, the son of Henry Bukowski, a US soldier, and Katharina Fett, a German woman. His family emigrated to the United States in 1922, and settled in Los Angeles, where Bukowski spent most of his life. The city became an integral part of his writing. Bukowski's father was in and out of work during the Depression years, regularly beating the boy. "I had to sleep on my belly at night because of the pain."
Bukowski depicted his childhood in HAM ON RYE (1982), portarying his father as a cruel, shiny bastard with bad breath. He died in 1958. To shield himself, Bukowski began his life-long occupation with alcohol in his youth. He also suffered from acne – the boils were "the size of apples" – which left scars on his face. During the school years Bukowski read widely, he was especially impressed by Sinclair Lewis's Main Street, Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, Carson McCullers, and D.H. Lawrence.
After graduating from Los Angeles High School, Bukowski studied for a year at Los Angeles City College, taking courses in journalism and literature. He left home in 1941 – his father had read his stories and threw his possessions onto the lawn. However, Bukowski still returned to his parents' house when he was totally broke. During World War II Bukowski lived the life of a wondering hobo and skid row alcoholic. He travelled across America, working in odd jobs: petrol station attendant, lift operator, lorry driver, and an overman in a dog biscuit factory. At the age of thirty-five he began to write poetry.
In 1944 his story 'Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip' was published in Story. He returned to Los Angeles and met Janet Cooney Baker, with whom he lived the next decade. She was ten years older than Bukowski and also drank heavily. She died in 1962. Bukowski started to work at a post office in 1952 – this period lasted three years. He was then hospitalized with an alcohol-induced bleeding ulcer and came close to death. "If you are going to write, you have to have something to write about," Bukowski once said. "The gods were good. They kept me on the street." Bukowski also claimed that ninety-three per cent of his work was autobiography.
Bukowski's marriage with Barbara Frye, the rich publisher of a small poetry magazine, lasted two years. Barbara published in her Harlequin magazine Bukowski's poems and he wrote several poems about her. In 1958 Bukowski began his twelve years work as a Post Office clerk. The salary was bad but Bukowski needed the money. He lived some years with Frances Smith; they had one daughter, Marina Louise.
In 1955 Bukowski began writing poetry, publishing volumes almost annually. His first collection, FLOWER, FIST AND BESTIAL WAIL, was printed in 1959. It was 30 pages long and the print run was only 200. Bukowski's early poems have much in common with the work of Robinson Jeffers. He admired strength and endurance, and featured violent and sexual confrontations between men and women. Bukowski's first volume of prose, ALL ASSHOLES IN THE WORLD AND MINE, came out seven years later. One of his publishers in the 1960s was Jon Edgar Webb from The Outsider magazine, which published works from such writers as Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, and William Burroughs. Gradually Bukowski established a loyal following for his depictions of down-and-out people. "A persistent rumor for many years declared that those gusty poems signed with his name were actually written by a nasty old lady with hairy armpits," said Arnold Kaye in Literary Times (1963).
Bukowski shifted in poetry from introspection to more expressionistic writing, as seen in AT TERROR STREET AND AGONY WAY (1968) and THE DAYS RUN AWAY LIKE WILD HORSES OVER THE HILL (1969). His columns, The Notes of a Dirty Old Man appeared in Open City and Los Angeles Free Press. The texts were later collected in a book (1969). In 1970 Bukowski left his job after the publisher John Martin of the Black Sparrow Press had offered him $100 a month for life to write full time. In the same year Linda King entered Bukowski's life; she was 20 years younger. The tumultuous relationship ended in the mid-1970s.
As his social situation changed, Bukowski's poems no longer engaged the adventures of an outcast, but became meditative and sarcastic comments on his surroundings, trips to the race track or his daily routines. Although prolific, Bukowski remained a literary outsider who published his works with small presses, primarily on the West Coast. In 1973 Bukowski gained a wider audience when an award-winning television documentary by Taylor Hackford was shown.
Bukowski's alter ego in the books, Henry Chinaski, has its literary roots in Dostoyevsky's underground man and Louis-Ferdinand Céline´s protagonists. Chinaski is a tough, hard-drinking womanizer, a kind of Mike Hammer-ish narrator, who lives with the bums and criminals, sometimes also visiting high society. The character was introduced in the autobiographical CONFESSIONS OF A MAN INSANE ENOUGH TO LIVE WITH THE BEASTS (1965). Chinaski's adventures were further chronicled in the novels POST OFFICE (1971), in which he survives the tyrannical nature of paid labor, FACTOTUM (1975), WOMEN (1978), and HAM ON RYE (1982), in which Chinaski returns to his childhood and youth.
Bukowski married in 1985 Linda Lee Beighle, a health food proprietor twenty-five years his junior. They had met in 1976. This also started a more balanced period of his life. Towards the end of his days, the author lived in a house with a swimming pool, drove a black BMW, wrote on a computer, and listened to records of his favorites: Sibelius, Mahler, and Rossini. A longstanding friend of Raymond Carver, Bukowski was numbered among the original 'dirty realists'. THE LAST NIGHT OF THE EARTH POEMS (1992) was Bukowski's last book published in his lifetime. It consisted of reflections of people who have passed from his life, and forward visions of his death. Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994 in Los Angeles. The actor and director Sean Penn dedicated his film The Crossing Guard (1995) to Bukowski.
Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981) was the first film adaptation of Bukowski's stories. Directed by Marco Ferreri and starring Ben Gazarra and Ornella Muti, it depicted a drunken poet who is obsessed by sex but can't find a happy relationship with his women. The script drew material from EJACULATIONS, EXHIBITIONS, AND GENERAL TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS (1972). Another film, Barfly (1987), directed by Barbet Schroeder and starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway, was about a writer, who meets a lush who takes him under her wings. Bukowski documented the making of the movie in his novel HOLLYWOOD (1989). Crazy Love / Love is a Dog from Hell (1989) was based on 'The Copulating Mermaid of Venice, Calif.', collected in Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness and later published in THE MOSTBEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN TOWN & OTHER STORIES (2001). The film was directed by Dominique Deruddere, starring Josse de Pauw, Geert Hunaerts, Michael Pas, Gene Bervoets. In the story a frustrated boy, full of romantic longing, grows up to be a necrophiliac. Lune Froinde (1991), directed by Patrick Bouchitey, starring Patrick Bouchitey, Jean-Francois Stévenin, Laura Favali, was based on Bukowski's stories from the same collection.
Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994, in San Pedro, California, aged 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 explained the phrase in a 1963 letter to John William Corrington: "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 at 5124 De Longpre Ave. from destruction. The campaign was spearheaded by preservationist Lauren Everett. The cause was covered extensively in the local and international press, including a feature in David S. Wills's Beatdom magazine, and was ultimately successful. The bungalow subsequently was listed as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument called Bukowski Court. The cause was criticized by some as cheapening Bukowski's "outsider" reputation.
Bukowski published extensively in small literary magazines and with small presses beginning in the early 1940s and continuing on through the early 1990s. These poems and stories were 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 supplying the writing and Crumb providing the artwork.
Bukowski also performed live readings of his works, beginning in 1962 on radio station KPFK in Los Angeles and increasing in frequency through the 1970s. Drinking was often 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 performance was in October 1979 in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was released on DVD as There'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 released as Hostage on audio CD and The Last Straw on DVD.
Bukowski 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 behaviour. 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.
In June 2006 Bukowski's literary archive was donated by his widow to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Copies of all editions of his work published by the Black Sparrow Press are held at Western Michigan University which purchased the archive of the publishing house after its closure in 2003.
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 Bukowski when released in 1993).
In 1981, the Italian director Marco Ferreri made a film, Storie di ordinaria follia aka Tales of Ordinary Madness, loosely based on the short stories of Bukowski; Ben Gazzara played the role of Bukowski's character.
Barfly, released in 1987, is a semi-autobiographical film written by Bukowski and starring Mickey Rourke as Henry Chinaski, who represents Bukowski, and Faye Dunaway as his lover Wanda Wilcox. Sean Penn had offered to play the part of Chinaski 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 Schroeder deserved to make it. Bukowski wrote the screenplay for the film and appears as a bar patron in a brief cameo.
Also in 1987 a small Belgian film called Crazy Love came out, with script co-written by Bukowski himself. The film was loosely based upon 3 frequently-told episodes from his life.
A film adaptation of Factotum, starring Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, and Marisa Tomei, was released in 2005.
In 2011, the actor James Franco publicly stated that he is in the process of making a film adaptation of Bukowski's novel Ham on Rye. He is currently writing the script with his brother David Franco and explained that his reason for wanting to make the film is because "Ham on Rye is one of my favorite books of all time."
For further reading: Charles Bukowski: A Critical and Bibliographical Study by Hugh Fox (1969); A Bibliography of Charles Bukowski by Sanford Dorbin (1969); Bukowski: Friendship, Fame, and Bestial Myth by Jory Sherman (1982); A Chales Bukowski Checklist, ed. by Jeffrey Weinberg; Hank: The Life of Charles Bukowski by Neeli Cherkovski (1991); Against the American Dream by R. Harrison (1994); A Sure Bet by G. Locklin (1995); Charles Bukowski by G. Brewer (1997); Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life by Howard Sounes, Charles Bukowski (1999); The Hunchback of East Hollywood by Aubrey Malone (2003); Sunlight Here I Am: Interviews and Encounters, 1963-1993 by Charles Bukowski, David Stephen Calonne (2003)
- FLOWER, FIST, AND BESTIAL WAIL, 1959
- LONGSHOT POEMS FOR BROKE PLAYERS, 1962
- POEMS AND DRAWINGS, 1962
- RUN WITH THE HUNTED, 1962
- IT CATCHES MY HEART IN ITS HANDS, 1963
- CONFESSIONS OF A MAN INSANE ENOUGH TO LIVE WITH BEASTS, 1965
- CRUSIFIX IN THE DEATHHAND, 1965
- ALL THE ASSHOLES IN THE WORLD AND MINE, 1966
- THE GENIUS OF THE CROWD, 1966
- AT TERROR STREET AND AGONY WAY, 1968
- POEMS WRITTEN BEFORE JUMPING OUT OF AN 8 STORY WINDOW, 1968
- NOTES OF A DIRTY OLD MAN, 1969
- THE DAYS RUN AWAY LIKE WILD HORSES OVER THE HILLS, 1969
- FIRE STATION, 1970
- POST OFFICE, 1971
- ME AND YOUR SIMETIMES LOVE POEMS, 1972
- MOCKINGBIRD WISH ME LUCK, 1972
- EJACULATIONS, EXHIBITIONS, AND GENERAL TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS, 1972 - films: Storie di ordinaria follia / Tales of Ordinary Madness, 1981, dir. by Marco Ferreri, starring Ben Gazzara, Ornella Muti, Susan Tyrrell, Tanya Lopert, Roy Brocksmith; Crazy Love, 1987, prod. Multimedia, dir. by Dominique Deruddere, starring Josse De Pauw, Geert Hunaerts, Michael Pas, Gene Bervoets; Lune froide, 1988 (short film), dir. by Patrick Bouchitey, starring Patrick Bouchitey, Karine Nuris, Jean-François Stévenin; Lune froide / Copulating Mermaid of Venice, 1991, dir. by Patrick Bouchitey, starring Jean-François Stévenin, Patrick Bouchitey, Jean-Pierre Bisson, Consuelo De Haviland
- LIFE AND DEATH IN THE CHARITY WARD, 1973
- SOUTH OF NO NORTH: STORIES OF THE BURIED LIFE, 1973
- BURNING IN WATER, DROWNING IN FLAME: SELECTED POEMS 1955-1973, 1973
- LIFE AND DEATH IN THE CHARITY WARD, 1974
- BURNING IN WATER DROWNING IN FLAME, 1974
- FACTORUM, 1975 - film: 2005, dir. by Bent Hamer, starring Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei -
- LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL, 1977
- WOMEN, 1978 - Naisia (suom. Rauno Ekholm, 1981)
- SHAKESPEARE NEVER DID THIS, 1979
- PLAY THE PIANO DRUNK/LIKE A PERCUSSION INSTRUMENT/UNTIL THE FINGERS
- BEGIN TO BLEED A BIT, 1979
- DANGLING IN THE TOURNEFORTIA, 1981
- HAM ON RYE, 1982 - Siinä sivussa (suom. Seppo Loponen, 1991)
- BRING ME YOUR LOVE, 1983 (with R. Crumb)
- HOT WATER MUSIC, 1983
- THE BUKOWSKI-PURDY LETTERS, 1983
- THERE'S NO BUSINESS, 1984 (with Robert Crumb)
- UNDER THE INFLUENCE, 1984
- WAR ALL THE TIME, 1984 - Jatkuvaa sotaa: runoja 1977-1984 (suom. Seppo Lahtinen, 2001)
- THE MOVIE: BARLY, 1984 - screenplay for the 1987 film, prod. Golan-Globus Productions, dir. by Barbet Schroeder, starring Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway, Alice Krige
- ALONE IN THE TIME OF ARMIES, 1985
- THE DAY IT SNOWED IN L.A., 1986
- YOU GET SO ALONE AT TIMES THAT IT JUST MAKES SENSE, 1986 - Eläkeläinen Kaliforniasta: runoja 1984-1990 (suom. Seppo Lahtinen, 2004)
- GOLD IN YOUR EYE, 1986
- LUCK, 1987
- THE ROOMINGHOUSE MADRIGALS: EARLY SELECTED POEMS 1946-66, 1988
- THE MOVIE CRITICS, 1988
- HOLLYWOOD, 1989 - Hollywood (suom. Kristiina Rikman, 1992)
- WE AIN'T GOT NO MONEY, HONEY, BUT WE GOT RAIN, 1990
- SEPTUAGENARIAN STEW: STORIES & POEMS, 1990
- IN THE SHADOW OF THE ROSE, 1991
- THE LAST NIGHT OF THE EARTH POEMS, 1992
- SUPPOSEDLY FAMOUS, 1992
- RUN WITH THE HUNTED: A CHARLES BUKOWSKI READER, 1993
- SCREAMS FROM THE BALCONY: SELECTED LETTERS 1960-1970. VOLUME 1, 1993 (edited by Seamus Cooney)
- PULP, 1994 - Pulp (suom. Markku Into, 2000)
- LIVING ON LUCK: SELECTED LETTERS 1960s-1970s. VOLUME 2, 1995 (edited by Seamus Cooney)
- SHAKESPEARE NEVER DID THIS (Augmented edition), 1995
- BETTING ON THE MUSE, 1996
- BONE PALACE BALLET, 1997
- THE CAPTAIN IS OUT TO LUNCH AND THE SAILORS HAVE TAKEN OVER THE SHIP, 1998 (illustrated by Robert Crumb) - Lounaalla (suom. Seppo Lahtinen, 1999)
- REACH FOR THE SUN: SELECTED LETTERS 1978-1994. VOLUME 3, 1999 (edited by Seamus Cooney)
- WHAT MATTERS MOST IS HOW WELL YOU WALK THROUGH THE FIRE, 1999
- OPEN ALL NIGHT: NEW POEMS, 2000
- POPCORN IN THE DARK, 2000
- THE MOSTBEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN TOWN & OTHER STORIES, 2001
- THE NIGHT TORN MAD WITH FOOTSTEPS, 2001
- PINK SILKS, 2001
- THE SIMPLE TRUTH, 2002
- SIFTING THROUGH THE MADNESS FOR THE WORLD, THE LINE, THE WAY, 2003
- SUNLIGHT HERE I AM: INTERVIEWS & ENCOUNTERS, 1963-1993 (edited by David Stephen Calonne)
- AS BUDDHA SMILES, 2004
- THE FLASH OF LIGHTNING BEHIND THE MOUNTAIN, 2004
- SLOUCHING TOWARD NIRVANA, 2005
- COME ON IN!, 2006
- THE PLEASURES OF THE DAMNED: POEMS 1951-1993, 2007 (edited by John Martin)