Authors: Charles Bukowski

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet, novelist, and short-story writer

Author Works

Poetry:

Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, 1960

Poems and Drawings, 1962

Longshot Poems for Broke Players, 1962

Run with the Hunted, 1962

It Catches My Heart in Its Hand, 1963

Crucifix in a Deathhand, 1965

Cold Dogs in the Courtyard, 1965

The Genius of the Crowd, 1966

The Curtains Are Waving, 1967

At Terror Street and Agony Way, 1968

Poems Written Before Jumping out of an Eighth Story Window, 1968

A Bukowski Sampler, 1969

The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses over the Hills, 1969

Fire Station, 1970

Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, 1972

Me and Your Sometimes Love Poems, 1973 (with Linda King)

While the Music Played, 1973

Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, 1974

Africa, Paris, Greece, 1975

Scarlet, 1976

Maybe Tomorrow, 1977

Love Is a Dog from Hell, 1977

We’ll Take Them, 1978

Legs, Hips and Behind, 1978

Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit, 1979

Dangling in the Tournefortia, 1981

The Last Generation, 1982

War All the Time: Poems 1981-1984, 1984

The Roominghouse Madrigals: Early Selected Poems, 1946-1966, 1988

Last Night of the Earth Poems, 1992

Bone Palace Ballet: New Poems, 1997

What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through the Fire, 1999

Open All Night: New Poems, 2000

The Night Torn Mad with Footsteps, 2001

Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way: New Poems, 2003

Long Fiction:

Post Office, 1971

Factotum, 1975

Women, 1978

Ham on Rye, 1982

You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense, 1986

Hollywood, 1989

Pulp, 1994

Short Fiction:

Notes of a Dirty Old Man, 1969

Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness, 1972

Life and Death in the Charity Ward, 1973

South of No North: Stories of the Buried Life, 1973

The Most Beautiful Woman in Town, and Other Stories, 1983

Bring Me Your Love, 1983

Hot Water Music, 1983

There’s No Business, 1984

The Day It Snowed in L.A., 1986

Screenplay:

Barfly, 1987

Nonfiction:

Shakespeare Never Did This, 1979 (photographs by Michael Montfort)

The Bukowski/Purdy Letters: A Decade of Dialogue, 1964-1974, 1983

Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters, 1960-1970, 1993

Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters, 1978-1994, 1999

Beerspit Night and Cursing: The Correspondence of Charles Bukowski and Sheri Martinelli, 1960-1967, 2001

Miscellaneous:

You Kissed Lilly, 1978

Septuagenarian Stew: Stories and Poems, 1990

Run with the Hunted: A Charles Bukowski Reader, 1993

Betting on the Muse: Poems and Stories, 1996

Biography

Transforming ordinary events into monuments of alienation and despair, Charles Bukowski (byew-KOW-skee) transformed his private agony into a poetry with universal implications. At the age of two, Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr., emigrated from Germany with his parents, who settled in Los Angeles. A victim of child abuse, Bukowski started drinking at an early age to escape the pain of his father’s violent discipline and unrealistic expectations. Images of alcoholism pervade Bukowski’s texts and function as a backdrop for all his other subjects. The topic of many of his poems and stories, as well as the novel Ham on Rye, Bukowski’s difficult childhood created in him a disdain for the bourgeois idealism touted by Henry, Sr., and fomented a fear of intimacy that would continue for much of his life. Bukowski matriculated at Los Angeles City College in 1939 but left in 1941, partly because of his resistance to the overzealous anti-German propagandizing of his instructors and classmates. Throughout his career, Bukowski challenged the automaton-like acceptance of conventional “wisdom” and explored the nuances of a seamier, grittier existence.{$I[AN]9810001975}{$I[A]Bukowski, Charles}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Bukowski, Charles}{$I[tim]1920;Bukowski, Charles}

Charles Bukowski

(© Connuzzi)

Bukowski began publishing stories and poetry in the mid-1940’s, but the realities of alcoholism and economics combined to quell his creative urge until the mid-1950’s, when a bleeding ulcer forced him to reassess the direction of his life and begin writing the poetry that inspired publisher John Martin to support him with a stipend. In the interim, Bukowski drank and lived at the subsistence level by performing the menial labor he describes and critiques in his novel Factotum. An autodidactic confessional poet, Bukowski, like Sylvia Plath and Delmore Schwartz, transforms autobiographical data into miniature tragedies. Written in a sinewy free verse, Bukowski’s early poetry employs deceptively simple narrative situations–such as the desire for an afternoon beer, a horse race, or a trip to the mailbox–that resonate with pregnant emotion. Bukowski’s personae in the early, neo-naturalist poems often experience epiphanies in which they glean a profound sense of alienation from their daily tasks and activities. Their powerlessness to alter their situations, coupled with the knowledge that their emotional dislocation will continue to grow, often leaves Bukowski’s narrators in a state of anguish, even to the point of considering suicide. The later poetry continues to tap the reservoir of Bukowski’s life, but his personae–including “Henry Chinaski”–often face seemingly intolerable situations with a type of grudging resignation and humor rather than with despondency. The candor and dark beauty of Bukowski’s poetry, as well as its highly accessible subject matter, made it popular with the so-called underground. It also earned him a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant in 1974.

Bukowski’s prose brought him even more fame, but it also–unfairly–earned him the reputation of being a one-dimensional sexist and solipsist. Written in the economical, gritty fashion of writers such as Ernest Hemingway, John Fante, and Dashiell Hammett, Bukowski’s stories and novels explore the bittersweet reality of everyday life. His personae must negotiate through a regime of mind-numbing jobs, deteriorating personal relationships, alcoholism, gambling, and futility without losing their sanity or humor. While Bukowski did draw from his own experiences in novels such as Post Office, which distills eleven years of his experience as a postal worker, and Women, which describes several of his intimate relationships as well as his life as a sought-after poet, he, like Henry Miller, rose above simple solipsism by imbuing his texts with the sense that even though society may circumscribe the individual, a truly liberated person may avoid being crushed.

Bukowski’s stories, often only a few pages long, frequently employ the epiphanic techniques evident in the poetry. Although most of his narratives deal with average people or with himself, Bukowski occasionally displayed his range by writing on more esoteric subjects, such as a baseball player’s contract negotiations or the motion-picture industry, the background of Hollywood. Although his fiction sometimes treats women harshly, Bukowski often presents his personae as emotionally vulnerable and physically impotent, suggesting that his prose ironically deconstructs, rather than valorizes, sexual power relationships. Bukowski’s dark humor, along with his consistently proletarian ethos, makes his fiction unique in American letters. Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994, shortly after publishing his novel Pulp. Several posthumous poetry collections have been published.

BibliographyBrewer, Gay. Charles Bukowski. New York: Twayne, 1997. A concise and comprehensive critical introduction to Bukowski’s work. Part of the Twayne American Authors series.Cain, Jimmie. “Bukowski’s Imagist Roots.” West Georgia College Review 19 (May, 1987): 10-17. Cain draws a parallel between Bukowski’s poetry and the work of William Carlos Williams, America’s premier Imagist poet. Cain claims that Bukowski’s rough-and-tumble poetry shows palpable Imagist influences. For advanced students.Calonne, David Stephen. Charles Bukowski: Sunlight Here I Am–Interviews and Encounters, 1963-1993. Northville, Mich.: Sun Dog Press, 2003. Thirty-four interviews and “encounters” that examine the rise of Bukowski from his life as a drunk to literary icon.Charlson, David. Charles Bukowski: Autobiographer, Gender Critic, Iconoclast. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford, 2005. Based on the author’s doctoral dissertation, this unique study includes significant discussion of Bukowski’s reputation as a misogynist and his themes of masculinity and violence. A comprehensive work, and an excellent introduction to Bukowski’s life and work.Cherkovski, Neeli. Hank: The Life of Charles Bukowski. New York: Random House, 1991. Written by Bukowski’s longtime friend and collaborator. One of the earliest Bukowski biographies–compassionate and respectful.Cherkovski, Neeli. Bukowski: A Life. South Royalton, Vt.: Steerforth, 1997. This volume is “a slightly different version” of Cherkovski’s Hank: The Life of Charles Bukowski, published by Random House in 1991. Its strength resides in the writer’s close access to the subject during their early friendship and material from interviews with Bukowski. It purports to include the “wilder stories” which Bukowski regretted were previously omitted. The bibliography has been updated.Duval, Jean-François. Bukowski and the Beats: A Commentary on the Beat Generation. Translated by Alison Ardron. Northville, Mich.: Sun Dog Press, 2002. Though Bukowski aimed to distance himself from Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs, Duval examines Bukowski’s historical links to the Beats and also highlights his philosophical differences.Harrison, Russell. Against the American Dream: Essays on Charles Bukowski. Santa Rosa, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1994. In the first critical study of Bukowski, Harrison argues that the author and his writing are unappreciated and that Bukowski has been ignored by academics mostly because he wrote about the life of the working class and the failure of the American Dream.Krumhansl, Aaron. A Descriptive Bibliography of the Primary Publications of Charles Bukowski. Santa Rosa, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1999. A bibliography listing Bukowski’s books, chapbooks, and broadsides, along with the magazine articles in which he is featured. The deluxe edition includes a rare broadside poem by Bukowski.McDonough, Tom. “Down and (Far) Out.” American Film 13 (November, 1987): 26-30. McDonough discusses how Bukowski’s real-life alcoholism was portrayed in the 1987 biographical film Barfly. In the film, the drunken Bukowski was played by actor Mickey Rourke, while Faye Dunaway played his drinking companion. Gives an interesting popular insight to Bukowski’s life.Miles, Barry. Charles Bukowski. New York: Virgin Books, 2006. Miles, acclaimed for his writing on the Beat generation, offers readers a fresh take on Bukowski’s life, relying heavily on his many letters.Sounes, Howard. Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life. New York: Grove Press, 1998. Widely considered to be the definitive account of Bukowski’s life, Sounes offers another engaging look at the “poet of the gutters.”Wakoski, Diane. “Charles Bukowski.” In Contemporary Poets, edited by James Vinson and D. L. Kirkpatrick. 4th ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. Wakoski traces Bukowski’s rising popularity but laments the fact that though “Americans …honor truth,” and Bukowski’s poems are distinguished by their unself-pitying truthfulness, he has not received much serious criticism. Includes a list of his publications up to 1984.Weizmann, Daniel, ed. Drinking with Bukowski: Recollections of the Poet Laureate of Skid Row. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2000. Essays by friends of Bukowski such as Wanda Coleman, Raymond Carver, Karen Finley, Paul Trachtenberg, Fred Voss, and Sean Penn.
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