Charles Bukowski was born in Andernach, Germany, on August 16, 1920, to Henry Bukowski and Katharina Fett. Henry was a U.S. soldier stationed in Germany at the time, and Katharina was a German national. The family moved to the United States when Bukowski was three years old, settling in Los Angeles, California. Bukowski’s father was an abusive man, and Bukowski would later draw upon his childhood experiences for his writing.
Bukowski attended Los Angeles City College for a year before dropping out. He then held a variety of odd jobs, including working as a ditch digger and a dog catcher. In 1955, Bukowski began writing for small literary magazines. His first book of poetry, Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail, was published in 1959.
Bukowski’s first novel, Post Office, was published in 1971. The novel was based on his own experiences working at the United States Postal Service. Bukowski’s writing was often compared to that of Ernest Hemingway and John Fante.
Bukowski’s second novel, Factotum, was published in 1975. The novel follows the exploits of a down-and-out writer in Los Angeles. Bukowski’s third novel, Women, was published in 1978. The novel is a semi-autobiographical account of Bukowski’s relationships with women.
Bukowski’s fourth novel, Ham on Rye, was published in 1982. The novel is a coming-of-age story set in the Great Depression. Bukowski’s fifth novel, Hollywood, was published in 1989. The novel is a satire of the film industry.
Bukowski’s sixth novel, Pulp, was published in 1994. The novel is a crime story set in Los Angeles. Bukowski’s seventh and final novel, Hollywood Nocturnes, was published posthumously in 1998.
Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994, at the age of 73.
Bukowski was married twice and had one daughter from his first marriage. He was also involved with a number of women throughout his life.
Bukowski was a heavy drinker and smoker throughout his life. He was also overweight, and his health began to decline in the later years of his life.
March 9, 1994, San Pedro, California, United States
Barfly, Son Of Satan, Factotum, The Man with the Beautiful Eyes, Tales of Ordinary Madness, Crazy Love, Cold Moon, Charles Bukowski: Bukowski at Bellevue, Mermaid of Venice, Poetry in Motion, Girl on the Escalator, Love for $17.50, The Suicide, The Killers, The Devil Was Hot, Dr Nazi, Apporte-moi to...
Like anybody can tell you, I'm not a very nice man. I don't know the word. I've always admired the villain, the outlaw, the son of a bitch. I don't like the clean-shaven boy with the necktie and the good job. I like desperate men, men with broken teeth and broken minds and broken ways. They interest me. They are full of surprises and explosions. I also like vile women, drunk cursing bitches with loose stockings and sloppy mascara faces. I'm more interested in perverts than saints. I can relax with bums because I am a bum. I don't like laws, morals, religions, rules. I don't like to be shaped by society.
We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities. We are eaten up by nothing.
[on Mickey Rourke's performance in Barfly (1987)] He really overdid it, you know, the hair hanging down... I don't think the kid's ever been on Skid Row, you know? When the guy walks in he says: 'OOOHHH! I'VE BEEN MISSED, I SHOULD RUN FOR MAYOR!' Didn't get it right, 'cause I'd walk in I'd say: 'Oh, I'd been missed, I guess I should run for mayor...'. See, you don't brag it, it's low-key all the time. He had it all kind of exaggerated, untrue, a little bit show off about him. So, no, it was kind of missed on. [from Bukowski: Born into This (2003)].
[on writing "Hollywood"(1989)] I found out that Hollywood is more crooked, dumber, crueler, stupider than all the books I read about it. They didn't go deeply enough into how it lacks art and soul and heart, how it's really a piece of crap. There are too many hands directing, there are too many fingers in the pot, they're all kind of ignorant about what they are doing, they are greedy and they are vicious. So you don't get much of a movie. [from Bukowski: Born into This (2003)].
I hate to go into bars anymore. I've had too much of barrooms.(...)Now I go up with my bottle and write, all alone. The company's great. Turn on the radio and type. I like looking at a novel and you don't know what you're gonna type next.
For a long time I had a heavy suicide complex. I went to bars to try to fight, try to get killed. It's a funny thing. When you walk in looking for trouble, you usually can't find it. Mickey Rourke, in this film, he's looking for trouble. He's doing a good acting job. I didn't really expect him to be so good. I did some drinking with him, a couple nights. He doesn't drink as much as I do. Nobody does, unless it's Linda [his wife]. She used to match me, drink for drink, calling for the next bottle.
The way I became a barfly was, I didn't like what I saw in the 9 to 5. I didn't want to become an ordinary working person, paying off the mortgage, looking at TV, terrified. The bar was a hiding place, to get out of the mainstream.
[on Barfly (1987)] What I did, for 10 years I didn't write. I drank. I lived with various women and worked odd jobs. I got some material to write about. Down to earth stuff. To use a cliché. When I was sitting in those bars, I had no idea it would come to a movie.(...)I can see people saying, the guy's a drunk at the bar - so what? They think lives should be attached to some purpose or goal. I knew the morning bartender. He would let me in at 5 a.m. I'd get two hours of free drinks before the bar opened at 7. I'd stay in the bar until it closed. I got three hours of sleep, from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.
[on Barfly (1987)] The way we got involved was I picked up this phone one day and it was Barbet Schroeder calling from Paris. I'm drinking, I hung up. Never heard of him. You meet a lot of phonies. I hang up, he calls back, he wants me to write a movie for him. I tell him I hate movies. He mentions $20,000. I ask him when he's coming over.
I like to drink and write and have the novel happen to me and I'm as surprised as anyone else. I'll be so deep into it that sometimes Linda will open the door unexpectedly and I'll scream.
My writing it very simple. Maybe clarity is a better word.
Everybody calls me Hank. Nobody calls me Charles.
People who drink and still function say they're not alcoholics. I don't see what one has to do with the other. Whether you're an alcoholic and whether you function are two different questions.
It was true that I didn't have much ambition, but there ought to be a place for people without ambition, I mean a better place than the one usually reserved. How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?
I was born in Andernach, Germany in the 1920s to an American soldier and a German mother. Moved to Los Angeles when I was about 3. I published my first short story, 'Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip', when I was 24. From 1945 to 1955, I published only a few short stories then I published my first poetry at 35. I've never been lonely. I've been in a room - I've felt suicidal. I've been depressed. I've felt awful - awful beyond all - but I've never felt that one other person could enter that room and cure what was bothering me... or that any number of people could....
"I never realized that there were so many movie magazines or magazines interested in the movies. It was a sickness. This great interest in a medium that relentlessly and consistently failed, time after time after time, to produce anything at all. People became so used to seeing shit on film that they no longer realized is WAS shit." -From 'Hollywood', on his experience writing "Barfly".
When I write, when I'm going hot, I don't want to write more than four hours in a row. After that you're pushing it. The horses [horse races] give me something to do. At the age of 50 I quit a job at the post office and decided to become a full-time writer. The old guy's crazy, my landlady declared, striking her head with her palm. I wrote my first novel, named "Post Office", in nineteen nights, working on Scotch and beer. I had prepared by going to L.A. City College and taking journalism. They taught me how to type.(...)I just got an electric a couple of years ago. At the first, I was a starving writer. I went from 190 pounds down to 130. Everything I put in the mail came right back to me. The Atlantic, Harper's, The New Yorker, they rejected everything. I threw it all away. I started out again, selling to the porno mags. What I used to do was, write a good story and throw in some goddamn sex. It worked. I only got one story rejected - it had too much sex! They draw a fine line. 'Bukowski,' the editor wrote me, 'nobody on earth screws that many women in a week and a half!'
U2's singer Bono on Bukowski: "He had no time for metaphors.".
He had two stories published by the time he was 24 but gave up writing shortly afterwards to work in the post office. He did not write again for ten years and did not become a full-time professional until he was 49 years old.
Began writing again in 1955, after surviving an almost fatal bleeding ulcer.
Suffered from dyslexia as a youth.
His first novel 'The Post Office' was published when he was 51 years old.
Once called the French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline's "Journey to the End of the Night" the greatest book ever written.
His widow, Linda Lee Bukowski, donated his papers to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, near Pasadena. Linda Bukowski chose the genteel Huntington, which contains a Gutenberg Bible, as she frequently visits the library. "It's going to be scandalous. This would tickle my husband. It would crack him up," Linda Lee Bukowski said of her donation, which was worth as much as $1 million. The collection of more than a thousand items includes a typed draft of his novel "Ham on Rye" (1982) with handwritten corrections, his screenplay for the 1987 autobiographical movie Barfly (1987), his first poetry journals from the 1940s, and scratch forms from horse races at Santa Anita Park.
Headstone reads "Don't Try"
Loved to listen to classical music on the radio as he wrote (and drank).
Was a cat fancier. One of his finest poems, "The Mockingbird," is about a cat dispatching a bird.
His body is interred at Green Hills Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California
Bukowski was arrested for being drunk in public by the Los Angeles Police Department on May 14, 1948, December 17, 1962, and on August 12, 1963. The fear of being tossed in the L.A.P.D.'s drunk tank features in his writing.
Bukowski was arrested for draft evasion and jailed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 22, 1944. He was released when the FBI determined it was his uncle John that they were looking for. Bukowski had been rated 4-F by the Los Angeles draft board for being psychologically unfit.
According to Jim Christy's "The BUK Book: Musings on Charles Bukowski," when Bukowski made his first trip to Canada in October 1976, organizers for his Western Front reading in Vancouver, British Columbia were surprised that the men in the audience were far outnumbered by women. Bukowski, who was physically unprepossessing due to the acne scars on his face and his generous potbelly, proved to be catnip to women. According to reading organizer Ted Laturnus, at a post reading party, Bukowski "was besieged with offers of congress." No matter where Bukowski went during in Vancouver, he "had to fight the women off." Bukowski wrote about the Vancouver reading in his 1978 novel "Women."
His only child, Marina Bukowski was born in 1964 and is the product of his liaison with the poet Frances Smith, who wrote under the name FrancEyE.