Henry Charles Bukowski (August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was a German American poet, novelist, and short story writer. Bukowski's writing was heavily influenced by the geography and atmosphere of his home city of Los Angeles, 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."
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 KPFK 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 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.
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