August 16

This Day in History


Aug 16, 1920:

Poet Charles Bukowski is born

Charles Bukowski, leader of the "Meat School" of tough, masculine poetry, is born on this day in Andernach, Germany. Bukowski's writing is filled with images of sex, violence, and heavy drinking.

Bukowski's family moved to the U.S. when he was a child. The family settled in Los Angeles, where Bukowski set much of his work. Bukowski's father was a brutal man who allegedly beat his son frequently. As a child, Bukowski was plagued with boils that scarred his face early in life. He started drinking in his early teens and never stopped. He began studying journalism and English at Los Angeles City College in 1939, but dropped out and went to the East Coast, where he worked on his fiction. A steady stream of magazine rejections led him to give up writing for 10 years.

He took it back up in 1955, when a bleeding ulcer landed him in a Los Angeles hospital, giving him time to reflect on his life. His poetry met with much better success than his fiction, and by 1959 he published his first book, Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail. John Martin of Black Sparrow Press offered Bukowski $100 a month to quit his menial part-time jobs, which included washing dishes, driving a truck, and sorting mail for the U.S. Postal Service. Bukowski turned his experiences with mail sorting into his first novel, Post Office (1971). Bukowski continued to embrace a rough, blunt style in his work. He became a very popular underground poet in Los Angeles and developed a loyal European following. He published more than 1,000 poems, 32 books of poetry, 5 short stories, and 6 novels. He also wrote an autobiographical screenplay, Barfly (1987), made into an award-winning movie in which Mickey Rourke plays a hard-drinking, macho writer surrounded by L.A. lowlifes. Bukowski died of leukemia in Los Angeles in 1994.

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