Charles Bukowski was a writer. Writing is a strange vocation that was, for many centuries, traditionally reserved for members of a lily white, over-educated, out-of-touch upperclass society. The same thickly insulated culture that produced Emily Bronte and Theodore Dreiser also thumbed it's collective nose at Poe and HST before hounding Ernest Hemmingway to death. So you see, Bukowski was in trouble from the start.
Bukowski was a wry, bare boned misanthrope. Not a prodigy or a senator's son. All of his wretched life, Bukowski lived among the same huddled masses who were once celebrated in an ancient inscription inspired by some French guy's concept of liberty and left on a statue accidentally dropped in New York harbor. Them dirty French ya know.
In Bukowki's formative period, in post WWII America, the concept of liberty seemed largely forgotten (or mistaken for lunch money) by the same country that this ideal was meant to be represented by - as a cold but immaculate consumerism fully took hold of the First World. When counter-culture exploded in the 1960's in America, embracing traditional values and heritage over consumerism, Bukowski's writing was a reminder that there was beauty in the ragged freedom of that kind of individualism. His voice was forged prior to this explosion and rejection of consumer culture - in a time when popular conformism over war and race was the norm - prior to "The Summer Of Love" there was "Duck And Cover" and "I Like Ike" sporting "Tricky Dick" Nixon as v.p. - this was the world Bukowski knew first.
Bukowski spoke through stories of struggling, brilliant super-functionaries - individuals who wandered through their lives in America like doomed misfits or endangered species working dead end day jobs.
By 1969, a 49-year-old Bukowksi had spent 20 years writing before accepting his first full-time job as a writer at Black Sparrow Publishing. He remembers this time by saying:
"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."
According to Born Into This, a documentary on Bukowski's life, Black Sparrow Press founder and owner, John Martin, offered Bukowski $100 dollars per month for life on the condition that Bukowski would quit working for the post office and write full time.
The product of this arrangement was Bukowski's first book, Post Office. It was written in 1971 and is the story of Henry Chinaski, a stand-in for Charles Bukowksi. Henry (the nickname his German immigrant parents called the real-life Bukowski) becomes a substitute mail carrier who hates his menial job, then quits this job to live on his meager winnings at a local horsetrack. After experiencing ups and downs gambling at the track Henry returns to working as a mail clerk where the work is familarly degrading. Henry survives through booze, women and an extremely cynical view of the world.
Bukowski's career produced a total of seven novels, seven short story collections including Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness (written in 1972), thirty-two poetry collections including the bristling and wild-eyed Slouching Towards Nirvana released in 2005 and to date, eight films made about his life.
Bukowski died at age 73 in San Pedro, CA in March of 1994 of leukemia. A wise and cantankerous bastard to the very end, Bukowski's gravestone inscription reads: "Don't Try". This, however, is more insightful than dismissive or churlish. "Don't Try" refers to a 1963 conversation when Bukowski was quized on his methodology by John William Corrington and replied:
"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 it's looks, you make a pet out of it."
Wikipedia, Charles Bukowski
Wikipedia, Post Office
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