7 facts about Charles Bukowski

7 facts about Charles Bukowski

The late and great American writer Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr. was once called “the human embodiment of a raised middle finger” – an analogy Bukowski would likely have welcomed, or perhaps even written about himself. His poetry and books were full of bawdy tales of sex, drugs and violent encounters, and while his brash style may not be for everyone, many are drawn to the unapologetic frankness with which he writes about the “fraying edge of society,” as Stephen Kessler tore it to pieces for the San Francisco Book Review. Here are some facts you should know about the author. (Warning: This story deals with child abuse; if you prefer to avoid this, ignore the first fact.)



August 16, 1920 Andernach, Germany

March 9, 1994, San Pedro, California

Bukowski called his childhood a horror story with a capital “H.” When asked why in a 1981 interview for Italian television, Bukowski shared that he was “beaten with a razor three times a week from the age of 6 to 11” by his father. “It was really good literary training for me,” he said, adding that the abuse taught him how to type: “The connection is, when you get kicked out of shit long enough…you tend to say what you really mean. In other words, you have all the pretenses beaten.

While not uncommon among some of our culture’s most famous writers, Bukowski had a lifelong relationship with alcohol that began as a young teenager. His friend William “Baldy” Mullinax – fictionalized as Eli LaCrosse in Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical novel rye ham– was the first to introduce him to alcohol. “It was magical,” Bukowski later recounted. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Several years after that first drink, he said he “didn’t think [he had] never wrote a poem when [he] was completely sober.

In the 1960s, thanks in part to his “Notes of a Dirty Old Man” column for the underground Los Angeles newspaper open city, Bukowski managed to get the Feds attention. According to Bukowski.net, the FBI and the US Postal Service – his employer at the time – were offended by some of his writings and began digging into his background. However, it doesn’t seem that they managed to dirty it much: apart from the Open city column, Bukowski’s file consists of his arrest records, bland interviews officers conducted with his neighbors, and a list of previous addresses and jobs.

Although he wrote and published poetry and short stories for years in smaller publications, Bukowski’s first novel was not published until he was 50 years old. Publisher John Martin had offered Bukowski $100 a month (about $965 in today’s money) to come and work with him at Black Sparrow Press on the condition that he quit his day job at the post office. Martin mentioned to Bukowski that it was easier for him to market and sell a novel than a collection of poetry, and a month later Bukowski called him to tell him that he had finished his first novel, Post Office. When Martin asked how it was possible that he wrote a novel so quickly, Bukowski replied, “Fear can accomplish a lot.

Post Officepublished in 1971, was a semi-fictional tale about alcoholic postman and womanizer Henry Chinaski – Bukowski’s alter ego who first appeared in the short story Confessions of a Man Mad Enough to Live With Beasts– who will eventually reappear in five of the Bukowski’s novels, a number of his short stories and films bar pillar And Do.

Bukowski first wrote the screenplay for the film bar pillar, which depicted the life of his alter ego Henry Chinaski, at the behest of filmmaker Barbet Schroeder in 1979, but nothing immediately came of it. Schroeder sent the script to various producers in Hollywood until eventually Dennis Hopper took an interest in it and showed it to his good friend Sean Penn. Bukowski recounted Penn saying, “I’ll play it for a dollar. This will be my salary. But the catch was that Penn wanted Hopper to direct, while Bukowski wanted to stay true to the man who had invested so much money and time in the project: Schroeder.

Although he insisted on sitting down with both interested parties, the writer ultimately stuck with Schroeder and the role of Chinaski went to Mickey Rourke. bar pillar released in theaters in 1987. (Along the way to getting bar pillar fact, Schroeder also made a documentary about Bukowski: 1985’s Charles Bukowski’s Tapes.)

As Bukowski grew older and more successful, he often rubbed shoulders with Hollywood’s elite, though he never quite escaped his “wrong side of the tracks” origins. Once, while ill, actor Elliott Gould recommended a specialist in Beverly Hills who told Bukowski he was just “run down” and needed rest. But he kept feeling bad, so Sean Penn sent him to another Beverly Hills doctor, who told him something similar.

Bukowski once took one of his cats (he was an ailurophile, once thinking, “The more cats you have, the longer you live”) to the vet to be bandaged up after a fight, and the author casually mentioned to the vet that he himself hadn’t been feeling well for quite a while. After a quick exam, the vet concluded he had tuberculosis, which was commonly called “the poor man’s disease,” and something these Beverly Hills doctors had never seen before. When Bukowski returned to the doctor (embarrassed) with this information, he was finally put on a proper TB diet, and within a year he was OK.

Charles Bukowski's grave with his name, nickname, years of birth and death, and epitaph "don't try"

Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994 at the age of 73 and was buried in Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Although her epitaph may seem like a depressing piece of writing from life, it is actually a line from one of her poems. According to his widow, Linda Bukowski, he appeared in the who’s who in america series – a kind of encyclopedia on personalities living in the United States Consisting mainly of self-reported information, one of the questions at the end asked Bukowski’s “philosophy of life” to which he wrote “Don’t try “.

He developed his philosophy in a 1963 letter to John William Corrington, explaining that his response to someone asking him “how do you write, do you create?” was to say “You’re not trying. It is very important: “not” to try, whether for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait again. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for him to come to you. When he gets close enough, you reach out, slap him, and kill him. Or if you like the way it looks, you make it a pet.


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