Henry Charles Bukowski (August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer.
His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambiance of his home city of Los Angeles. His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over sixty books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, in the LA underground newspaper Open City. Bukowski published extensively in small literary magazines and with small presses beginning in the early 1940s and continuing on through the early 1990s.
Regarding Bukowski’s enduring popular appeal, Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker wrote, “the secret of Bukowski’s appeal. . . [is that] he combines the confessional poet’s promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction hero.”
When Bukowski was 24, his 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 by the Black Sun Press in Issue III of Portfolio: An Intercontinental Quarterly, a limited-run, loose-leaf broadside collection printed in 1946 and edited by Caresse Crosby. 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 referred to as a “ten-year drunk”. These “lost years” formed the basis for his later semi-autobiographical chronicles, although they are fictionalized versions of Bukowski’s life through his highly stylized alter-ego, Henry Chinaski.
During part of this period he continued living in Los Angeles, working at a pickle factory for a short time but also spending some time roaming about the United States, working sporadically and staying in cheap rooming houses. In the early 1950s, Bukowski took a job as a fill-in letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service in Los Angeles but resigned just before he reached three years’ service.
By 1960, Bukowski had returned to the post office in Los Angeles where he began work as a letter filing clerk, a position he held for more than a decade.
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 in 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 as well as the hippie underground paper NOLA Express in New Orleans. In 1969 Bukowski and Neeli Cherkovski launched their own short-lived mimeographed literary magazine, Laugh Literary and Man the Humping Guns. They produced 3 issues over the next 2 years.
In 1969 Bukowski 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 relatively unknown writer, Bukowski published almost all of his subsequent major works with Black Sparrow Press. An avid supporter of small independent presses, he continued to submit poems and short stories to innumerable small publications throughout his career.
Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994, in San Pedro, aged 73, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp.
Debritto, Abel. “Cacoethes Scribendi: A Comprehensive Checklist of Charles Bukowski’s Earliest Publications, 1940-1969”, published in RESOURCES FOR AMERICAN LITERARY STUDY, Vol. 35, edited by Jackson R. Bryer and Richard Kopley
New York: AMS Press, September 2012
Dorbin, Sanford. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES BUKOWSKI
Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1969
Fogel, Al. CHARLES BUKOWSKI: A COMPREHENSIVE PRICE GUIDE & CHECKLIST — 1944-1999
Surfside: The Sole Proprietor Press, 1999
Krumhansl, Aaron. A DESCRIPTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE PRIMARY PUBLICATIONS OF CHARLES BUKOWSKI
Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1999