Charles Bukowski Additional Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

One cannot come to terms with the poetry of Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr., without acknowledging the fact that his is an extremely personal and autobiographical poetry; the terror and agony are not merely “felt-life” but life as Bukowski knew it. His survival was a thing of wonder. As Gerald Locklin notes, he “not only survived problems that would kill most men [but] survived with enough voice and talent left to write about it.” He was a practicing alcoholic whose life revolved around the racetrack, women, and writing.

Born Heinrich Karl Bukowski to a German mother and an American soldier father on August 16, 1920, in Andernach, Germany, Bukowski came to the United States in 1922 with his family. They settled in Los Angeles, later the milieu for much of Bukowski’s work. His father, a milkman, was a harsh and often violent man who struggled with his own powerlessness by wielding a razor strap. The resultant hostility and animosity is evident in many of the younger Bukowski’s poems. Coupled with a blood disease that left his face badly pockmarked, Bukowski was predisposed to a life on the fringes of society.

At about the age of sixteen, partly to escape and partly because of a desire to become a writer, Bukowski began to haunt the public library, seeking literary models. His own self-directed reading was far more important in shaping his literary credo than the two years he spent at Los Angeles City College. He was drawn to the works of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, John Fante, Fyodor Dostoevski, Ivan Turgenev, and the early Ernest Hemingway; in later years, he was attracted by Franz Kafka and Albert Camus. Just as the creative writing class in which he had enrolled...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr., was born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany, on August 16, 1920. He was the son of a German woman and a German American serviceman who had met at the end of World War I. In 1923, the family moved to the United States, settling first in Baltimore and then in Washington, D.C. Bukowski’s parents started calling him Henry instead of Heinrich, and they altered the pronunciation of the family name. The family moved to suburban Los Angeles in 1926, a decision that would greatly influence Bukowski’s career as a writer. Bukowski has said that he was a shy child with severe acne who was ridiculed by fellow students and abused by his father. His semiautobiographical novel Ham on Rye recounts his boyhood misadventures as a loner and outsider.

Bukowski graduated from Los Angeles High School and attended Los Angeles City College for two years. He took classes in journalism, art, and literature, but his greatest education came from the libraries of Los Angeles, where he discovered writers such as John Fante, Ezra Pound, Robinson Jeffers, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Knut Hamsun, whose works shaped his life and career. Bukowski’s college years are also covered in Ham on Rye, including a controversial period of his life during which he was associated with Nazism. To this day, people often mistake Bukowski as a Nazi sympathizer, though his writing makes it clear that he was not. In Ham on Rye, he attributes his blind flirtation with Nazism to youthful angst and the desire to rage against “the system.”

In his early life, Bukowski traveled often. He failed at jobs and...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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,...

(The entire section is 716 words.)