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Press Release - Charles Bukowski's Literary Archive Comes to The Huntington

June 14, 2006

 

Widow of Los Angeles poet and novelist donates his papers, letters, and books

 

SAN MARINO, Calif. – The literary archive of poet and novelist Charles Bukowski – the subject of numerous Hollywood films, documentaries, and graduate theses – has been donated to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens by the writer’s widow, Linda Lee Bukowski.

 

As a hard-edged voice that symbolized the experiences of the downtrodden living on the margins of society, Bukowski (1920–1994) was an underground writer and cult hero who has continued to gain literary prominence in the years following his death. The archive includes corrected typescripts of poems, correspondence from fans, first and foreign editions of his works, as well as fine-press collectors’ editions, magazine publications of his works, photography books, and even his own artwork.

 

“Bukowski’s voice is one of the most original and important in modern American literature,” says Sara (Sue) Hodson, the Huntington’s curator of literary manuscripts. “We are thrilled that his papers are coming to The Huntington, where they will add new dimension to the extensive and wide-ranging literary collections. The Huntington is committed to collecting the very best in British and American literature, and we are excited that Charles Bukowski will join such important modern authors as Kingsley Amis, Jack London, and Christopher Isherwood.”

 

Often mistakenly associated with the Beat Generation writers who broke onto the literary landscape in the 1950s, and from whom he disassociated himself, Bukowski produced writing that was keenly influenced by the geography and atmosphere of his home city of Los Angeles. His works are strongly marked by the use of direct, blunt language and violent and sexual imagery. Bukowski drew heavily from his own life experience and emotion, and he wrote with no apologies. Although he was a noted hard drinker with a lowlife reputation, Bukowski was a prolific writer clearly dedicated to his craft. He finished more than 50 books and countless short stories and poems that were often published in obscure literary journals.

 

Bukowski’s novels include Post Office (1971), Factotum (1975), Women (1978), Ham on Rye (1982), Hollywood (1989), and Pulp (1994). His short stories include “Notes of a Dirty Old Man” (1969), “South of No North: Stories of the Buried Life” (1973), and “Bring Me Your Love” (1983). Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, published in 1959, was his first book of poetry – he would go on to write more than 40 others. The main character in many of his largely autobiographical poems and short stories is the down-and-out writer Henry Chinaski, who works at marginal jobs, gets drunk, and hangs out with fellow losers, alcoholics, and drifters. He also blows the rent at the racetrack, a favorite locale for Bukowski as well.

 

Items within the Huntington gift include the typescript novel Ham on Rye with autograph corrections; the typescript screenplay for the movie Barfly with autograph corrections; scores of corrected poems; fan letters, many by women groupies; and many small journal publications containing Bukowski’s works. (These journals were mostly ephemeral, so surviving copies are scarce.)

 

His Life
Born in Andernach, Germany, to a German woman and American soldier, Bukowski came to the United States as a small child when his family settled in Los Angeles. Traumatized by abusive parents, he was regularly beaten by his father. Bukowski was also ostracized as a youngster because of a terrible case of acne that produced painful boils all over his face and back. The combination of his unhappy home life and his physical disfigurement molded his role as a perpetual outsider. Bukowski saw an inherent cruelty in the world and lack of sympathy in human interactions. “He was essentially convinced of the hopelessness of humanity,” says Hodson.

 

In 1939 Bukowski began attending Los Angeles City College, dropping out at the beginning of World War II and moving to New York to become a writer. By 1946, defeated by a collection of rejection slips, he set aside his writing aspirations. He fell into a decade-long drinking binge that took him all over the world and left him with a bleeding ulcer. As he recovered, Bukowski began to write again while also taking on what became an endless stream of jobs. These included stints as a truck driver, gas station attendant, and Red Cross orderly. He was also employed in a dog biscuit factory and slaughterhouse. For more than 10 years, however, Bukowski worked as a clerk and mail carrier in a Los Angeles post office.

 

It was during this time that Bukowski began publishing in underground newspapers such as the local Open City and L.A. Free Press. In 1966, John Martin, a fan of his writing, approached Bukowski and encouraged him to devote himself to writing fulltime. Buoyed by his modest success, Bukowski quit his job and managed to support himself solely through writing from then on. This was accomplished in part through the efforts of Martin, who created Black Sparrow Press and subsequently published almost all of Bukowski’s work. Martin remained his publisher until the writer’s death.

 

In the 1980s Bukowski wrote the screenplay for the critically acclaimed Hollywood movie Barfly (1987), which focused on his life at the age of 24. By the time of the movie’s release, his popularity had grown significantly in America, and he was revered by younger artists, such as the actor Sean Penn and the rock star Bono. Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994 in San Pedro, Calif.

 

Since his death, the fan base for Bukowski’s work continues to grow around the world. HarperCollins bought the rights to Bukowski’s work when Martin closed Black Sparrow Press in 2002, and continues to publish his work under its Ecco imprint. A film adaptation of Bukowski’s 1975 novel Factotum (Icon Productions), starring Matt Dillon, will open in August 2006. At the same time, scholarship on Bukowski has flourished, as his writing is more widely embraced by traditional literary circles. Scholars will eventually have access to the Huntington’s Bukowski collection, though it will take several years to process and catalog the collection. In the meantime, the institution plans to put some items on permanent display in the Library’s exhibition hall later in the year. “The ‘Belle’ beckons, and Bukowski gives her everything,” Linda Lee Bukowski says, in a poetic reference to The Huntington and, more specifically, Henry Huntington’s wife Arabella. “One cannot help but enjoy this unique, and rather deliciously scandalous, pairing. It is with true pleasure and utter delight that my late husband’s vast archive shall reside at the Huntington, to be expertly preserved, and lovingly cared for and appreciated in perpetuity. What a happy experience this is!”

 

A public event called “Celebrating Bukowski” will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20 at The Huntington. It will feature readings from the writer’s works and a panel discussion.

 

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. More information can be found on the Web at www.huntington.org.

 

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The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

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