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Charles Bukowski (Henry Charles Bukowski) Biography

(1920–94), (Henry Charles Bukowski), The Outsider, It Catches My Heart in Its Hands

American poet, novelist, and short-story writer, born in Andernach, Germany, to a German mother and an American soldier; he was brought to Los Angeles as a small child. After attending Los Angeles City College he worked intermittently at a variety of unskilled jobs, most durably as a postman. He published stories in the mid-1940s, but his authentic writing career stemmed from a decade later when his poems, vigorously anti-academic and carrying an air of exclusion and embattlement, began appearing in little magazines throughout the USA. Though clearly sharing certain concerns with the contemporaneous Beat movement, his individualist ethos precluded formative contacts even with such loose literary groupings. Jon Edgar Webb's eclectic magazine The Outsider championed Bukowski's writing. His early chapbooks were followed by the full-length collections It Catches My Heart in Its Hands (1963) and Crucifix in a Deathhand (1965). Since becoming a full-time author in 1970, Bukowski's prolific output achieved an international readership. Among the most admired of his numerous volumes are The Days Run Away like Wild Horses over the Hills (1969); Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1973), a selection of his often scabrously funny underground newspaper columns; and Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame (1974), selected poems. Notable among his novels are Post Office (1971) and Ham on Rye (1982), the latter depicting his unruly adolescence during the Depression and thus a late addition to the Beat canon of revolt against Middle American values. Echoing Whitman, Bukowski's persona was disorderly, fleshy, and sensual, the predominant use of a first-person narrator seeking to create an impression of autobiographical immediacy and conversational spontaneity. His declared aim was to ‘humanize’ poetry, lowering the rhetorical tone by structurally simple language flavoured with slang and swear words, asides to the reader, and other humorous interjections. In his later years Bukowski's verse increasingly favoured the narrative mode, usually employing short lines replete with hardbitten or wise-cracking dialogue. Stories and poems in Septuagenarian Stew (1990) reflect his characteristic subject matters: painful relations with women and a brutal father; survival as a bum and self-taught writer in lowrent Los Angeles; gambling, sex, and drink; contemplation of death and ageing; defiant insistence on freedom and continued creation. At the time of his death Bukowski was the most widely read contemporary American author in translation. His final books were The Last Night of the Earth Poems (1992), Run with the Hunted: A Charles Bukowski Reader (1993), and Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters (1993). Pulp, a spoof detective novel, appeared posthumously in 1994. Hank: The Life of Charles Bukowski, by Neeli Cherkovski, appeared in 1991; Against the American Dream: Essays on Charles Bukowski, by Russell Harrison, was published in 1994.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Bridgnorth Shropshire to Anthony Burgess [John Anthony Burgess Wilson Burgess] Biography