Childhood & Early Life
Charles Bukowski was born as Heinrich Karl Bukowski to Heinrich Henry Bukowski and Katharina on August 16, 1920, in Andernach, Germany. They eventually shifted to South Central Los Angeles.
His early memories of childhood were tragic, given the harsh and abusive treatment of his father, insulting comments by neighbourhood boys and the Great Depression. As such, he grew up to be shy and socially withdrawn.
Young Bukowski was introduced to alcohol at an early age by his loyal friend William ‘Baldy’ Mullinax, which later transformed into chronic alcoholism.
He completed his preliminary studies from Los Angeles High School and later enrolled at Los Angeles City College to study art, journalism, and literature. He quit college after two years and instead pursued a blue-collared job in New York.
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His tryst with writing started soon after he left college; his first ever publication being a short story titled ‘Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection’. It was published in Story magazine in 1944.
In 1946, his second short story, ‘20 Tanks from Kasseldown’ was published by Black Sun Press. Not finding much success with his printed works, he decided to give up on his literary aspirations.
Disheartened with his early failure in writing, Bukowski embarked on a personal journey that lasted for ten-long years. The period was marked by excessive drinking and travelling. It was these ten years that formed the basis of his later semi-autobiographical writings.
In 1952, he took up the job of a fill-in letter carrier with the US Postal Service in Los Angeles. He resigned a little before three years.
Life gave Bukowski a second chance in 1955 after he recovered from a fatal bleeding ulcer that nearly killed him. After his brush with death, he once again commenced his literary career, writing poetry.
Like many of his contemporaries, his second innings of professional writing started for underground newspapers and magazines. Soon he gained a cult status for his poetry and short stories that were largely semi-autobiographical, revolving around the life of an indigent writer Henry Chinaski.
In 1959, he came up with his inaugural book of poetry, ‘Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail’. The book was widely appreciated for beautifully portraying the sense of desolation and abandonment through free verses. Same year, he came up with his best known essay, ‘Manifesto: A Call for Own Critics’.
In 1960, he resumed his duties as the letter filling clerk at the post office in Los Angeles, a position which he held for almost a decade. During this period, he penned much of the pains and agony of his early life into a series of poems and short stories.
In 1963, he came up with a poetry collection, ‘It Catches my Heart in Its Hands’. Written in the period between 1955 and 1963, each of the poem in the book was unrivalled in terms of content and beautifully merged together. Later in 1965, his other work, ‘Crucifix in a Deathbed’ was published.
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He wrote the column ‘Notes of a Dirty Old Man’ for Los Angeles underground newspaper, Open City since 1967. Interestingly, despite the closure of Open City, the column survived, finding place in yet another underground newspaper, Los Angeles Free Press and NOLA Express in New Orleans.
In 1969, he joined hand with Neeli Cherkovski to launch their short-lived mimeographed literary magazine, ‘Laugh Literary and Man the Humping Guns’. They produced 3 issues over the next 2 years.
In 1969, he accepted the offer by Black Sparrow Press of becoming a full-time writer, which led him to quit his post office job for good. Just a month later, he finished his semi-autobiographical first novel, ‘Post Office’.
Starting with 1970s, Bukowski literary career blossomed as he came up with an extensive collection of works, both in poetry and fiction that were published in small independent presses.
Some of his works published in the decade of 1970s include novels such as ‘Factotum’ and ‘Women’, poetry, ‘Mockingbird Wish Me Luck’, ‘Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame’, ‘Scarlet’, ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ and so on. He also came up with his first collection of short stories titled ‘Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness’.
The decade of 1980s saw Bukowski venture forth into the genre of screenplay writing for the film ‘Barfly’, released in 1984. Semi-autobiographical, the film revolved around three days in the life of Bukowski’s when he was 24. Like his other works, the film had his alter-ego character of Henry Chinaski play the protagonist. It was his experience with making ‘Barfly’ that formed the basis of his next novel, ‘Hollywood’.
Shortly before his death, he completed his last novel, ‘Pulp’. Much like his last poetry collection published in his lifetime, ‘The Last Night of the Earth Poems’, ‘Pulp’ dealt with the theme of mortality wrapped in scathing humor.