An American Lowlife: Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski is one of the most interesting literary figures in history. Although not as well known as some other authors, his life and works are so fascinating that many still try to figure out what made him tick today. He was part of the Transgressive fiction movement and his chosen style was known as “dirty realism.”

Early Years

Charles Bukowski was born Heinreich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany, in August 16, 1920. His mother, Katharina, was German and his father, Heinreich, was an American serviceman. They were married before Bukwoski’s birth though he liked to claim they weren’t. When Germany collapsed post WWI in 1923, the family moved to Maryland and his parents began calling him Henry. In 1930, they moved to LA. Bukowski had a difficult childhood as his father was violent and unemployed often so he was teased by children, making him painfully withdrawn. He was introduced to alcohol early and he enjoyed it. Bukowski attended two years of college and briefly associated with Nazis there, although he disparaged them in later years. He was also arrested for draft dodging but he failed the physical exam anyway and was declared unfit for service.

Early Writing

Bukowski’s first short story to be published was “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip” which was published in Story magazine when he was 24. When he was 26, “20 Tanks from Kasseldown” was published but he grew disillusioned by his inability to break into the literary world. Bukowski spent nearly a decade drinking but those ten years formed the basis for his autobiography. He spent that time working odd jobs and roaming around the United States. In 1955, he had a bleeding ulcer that nearly killed him. After he left the hospital, he began writing poetry as well as stories. He had a 2-year marriage to a Texas poet named Barbara Frye, fueling his drinking and poetry writing.

The 1960s

In 1960, Bukowski worked as a filing clerk for the LA post office. In 1962, Jane Cooney Baker, his first real romantic attachment, passed away. Bukowski was deeply traumatized by the event but it spawned a huge series of poems and stories. During this period, he had a daughter with his live-in girlfriend Frances Smith. Some of his poetry was published in The Outsider magazine. In 1967, he landed a job for a column “Notes of a Dirty Man” for LA’s Open City underground newspaper. The column was picked up by the Los Angeles Free Press and the NOLA Express in New Orleans. In 1969, he quit his job after publisher John Martin offered him a place in his Black Arrow Press publishing company. His novel Post Office was finished that year. Almost all of his later works were published under that publisher. He had multiple relationships with women that inspired more poetry. Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994.

  • Timeline: A detailed timeline of his life, including what he did in the 1960s.
  • Poems: Discusses his life and poems.
  • 1960s Works: A list of all of his works from the 1960s.
  • Quotes: Important quotes from Bukowski.
  • History: Discusses his writing history.

Bukowski's Work, Adaptations, Biographical Film, and Music

Bukowski had countless short stories and poems published in small magazines throughout his life. In addition to his poems, he also wrote novels. He even collaborated on comic books in the 1980s. There was a documentary made about him called Bukowski: Born into This which was released in 2003, featuring input from people like Bono and Sean Penn. Other films like Tales of Ordinary Madness were based on his works. Bukowski was also considered a capable artist. His works were somewhat autobiographical, describing his loves and pains, offering the world a look at life on the “other side” where things were tough.