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Barflies, rejoice: It's Charles Bukowski's birthday

August 16, 2010 |  1:49 pm

Charlesbukowski_glassCharles Bukowski was born Aug. 16, 1920, in Germany; his family moved to America, and Los Angeles, when he was still a boy.

Bukowski grew up to be a celebrated outsider, a hard drinking poet and author.

"The wine does most of my writing," he said while in his late 60s. "I just open a bottle and turn on the radio, and it just comes pouring out. I only type every third night. I have no plan. My mind is a blank. I sit down. The typewriter gives me things I don't even know I'm working on. It's a free lunch. A free dinner. I don't know how long it is going to continue, but so far there is nothing easier than writing."

Early on, Bukowski collected rejection slips; he worked lousy jobs, as a gas station attendant, truck driver and at cake, cookie and dog biscuit factories. His stint for the U.S. Postal Service in L.A. provided the material for his novel "Post Office," which sold 75,000 copies in America and 500,000 abroad.

Much of Bukowski's work was published by Black Sparrow Press; its founder, John Martin, began the press specifically to publish Bukowski's work. That both Black Sparrow Press and Bukowski were located on the West Coast added to his outsider cachet.

Yet Bukowski did not go unnoticed by the literary or cultural establishment. He received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1974. A biopic about Bukowski was made while he was alive, in 1987 -- "Barfly," starring Mickey Rourke. Bukowski went on to write about the experience in his book "Hollywood." He died of leukemia in 1994.

This fall, the Huntington, known for its rare books collection and Gainsborough painting "The Blue Boy," will host its first-ever Bukowski exhibit. The Huntington now holds Bukowski's papers and literary estate, a collection of upward of 2,700 items. "Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge" will run Oct. 9 to Feb. 14 and feature hand-corrected drafts, photographs, first editions, annotated racing forms and Bukowski's manual typewriter.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Charles Bukowski, circa 1980. Credit: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.


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