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Charles Bukowski at the Huntington

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The Huntington's Charles Bukowski exhibit opened Saturday; the library owns both a Gutenberg Bible and the papers of the Los Angeles poet, who died in 1994. "The Huntington is perceived as a conservative institution, but it's really not," David S. Zeidberg, Avery director of the library, said at a press preview Friday.

"The 20th and 21st centuries of American literature are as important as any other century," Zeidberg said. Both he and Sue Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, place Bukowski's work in a centuries-long continuum of humorous, bawdy English literature, from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Walt Whitman.

Longshotpomes Just a few steps away from the Bukowski exhibit, selections from the library's permanent collection are on display, including the Ellesmere Chaucer, an illuminated manuscript of "The Canterbury Tales" created from 1400-1405. "There's stuff in there," Zeidberg said, pointing to the permanent collection and the Chaucer, then turning back to Bukowski, "that's in here."

The Bukowski exhibit, which is organized roughly chronologically, includes photos, letters, drafts and redrafts of his writing, first editions, original artwork, foreign translations, movie memorabilia and other ephemera, including a racing form.

"Santa Anita racetrack was his sanctuary, and this was mine," Linda Lee Bukowski, his widow, said of the Huntington. When Bukowski was gambling at the track in nearby Arcadia, she visited the library and gardens.

She arranged for his papers to come to the institution and saw the exhibit for the first time Friday.

"It's surrealistic," she said. In the foyer, in a class case, sit Bukowski's typewriter, wine glass, pens and boom box, a little dingy, arranged just as they were in his office. Linda Lee Bukowski explained that she's left his office just as it was, going in twice a year to dust. "It's like home," she said, looking at the case. "I'm walking into this room at the Huntington, and it's like home."

Charles Bukowski's first publication, in Story magazine in 1944, was titled "Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip." That theme -- of the outsider, the loser -- would continue as a thread through his work.

Bukowski was born in Germany in 1920 to an American father and German mother; the family moved to Los Angeles in 1922. The elder Bukowski was, by all accounts, harsh and abusive, and his son suffered. When Charles was a teenager, he had a terrible case of acne and was something of an outcast; he dropped out of high school. Working a series of menial jobs that took him to New Orleans and Philadelphia, he also went to the library to give himself an education. And he began writing.

Bukowski_working Fans know the outlines of Bukowski's life because he mined it for his work. " 'Factotum' was very autobiographical," Hodson explained, pointing to a first edition on display. "As almost all of his writings were."

While he started off getting rejections from major mainstream magazines, he found acceptance in edgier upstart publications. Bukowski's poems of drinking, womanizing and trials of everyday life developed an avid following. To some, he wasn't just an outsider -- he was the outsider. In 1962, he was named Outsider of the Year by New Orleans-based Outsider magazine. The Huntington has that award on display.

When Bukowski was in his 50s and working for the U.S. Postal Service, he was approached by John Martin, a Californian who wanted to start a publishing house to print Bukowski's work. Martin promised him $100 a week if he would devote himself to writing. He agreed, and that's when his novels started: "Post Office" (1971), "Factotum" (1975), "Women" (1978) and "Ham on Rye" (1982). He wrote the script for the autobiographical film "Barfly" (1987), directed by Barbet Schroeder and starring Mickey Rourke.

Bukowski wrote more than 40 books of poetry and prose; the Poetry Foundation calls him a "cult hero." Hodson agrees.

"To read Bukowski is to understand why he can achieve that connection to people," she said. "He's a writer for the common man."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos (from top): The entrance to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

Photo: The cover of Charles Bukowksi's "Longshot Poems for Broke Players," illustrated by Bukowski. Credit: Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Photo: Charles Bukowski at work in 1988. Credit: Joan Levine Gannij

 

 
Comments () | Archives (10)

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What a great photo of him at the typewriter...
The credit says it was taken in 1988 but the setting looks like 1968 (except for his shirt, which looks like it's from 1978!)

A true Los Angeles icon - he is certainly not for everyone but if you love him you never get enough. I was lucky enough the see him read at the Old Golden Bear in Huntington Beach in the late 70's. At the end of the performance I asked if I could have a picture taken with him and in typical Bukowski fashion he turned to the stage manager and said..."let me allow one of my parasites a photo."

If you would like some real insight into this amazing, creative, REAL and honest genius, watch the documentary on his life.
AMAZINGLY creative mind. His honesty is blinding!!! Inspite of his great demons he was able to reveal his genius.

"WRITER FOR THE COMMON MAN?" BUKOWSKI WAS HARDLY THAT. HE WAS A WRITER FOR EFFETE, URBAN ELITISTS WHO DIDN'T HAVE A LIFE. PEOPLE IN NEED OF A LITTLE CATHARTIC EXCITEMENT. THAT'S NOT TO SAY A COUPLE OF HIS BOOKS WEREN'T GOOD READS FOR A BROAD AUDIENCE. BUKOWSKI WAS VERY MUCH A MAINSTREAM CREATURE WITH OFF BEAT INTERESTS. THE HUNTINGTON GETS HIGH MARKS FOR THE PRESENTATION EVEN IF THEY HAVEN'T FIGURED THIS GUY OUT...

that's hilarious mr. garcia - he's a great read. love it.

I met Hank through my longtime friend, Steve Richmond. Big impact on my life. Can't wait to visit the exhibit

Using scarf as a sling to drink booze? Why didn't I think of that?

This exhibit at the Huntington library sounds interesting. Bukowski seems like a person that was able to overcome some difficult circumstances to maintain a good healthy outlook on life. The Chinaski character alter ego fictional writer i.e. ...chinaski drained his drink and poured another long one ... well is there some inscrutable Chinese there? I was walking past an airport bookstore one day & said to myself if there's anything worthwhile in there, I'll buy it - I got a nice SMP paperback, Against the American Dream a decent LitCrit treatment of CB by one English prof, Russ Harrison. My introduction to the authors work would have been a loaned copy o OE&GenlTlof OrdinaryMadness which was kinda poe like in that you could tell writer was no stranger to intoxication - some whack imagination!!! At any rate I liked post office alot & usually enjoy a n unvarnished growing upbook, that'd be ham on rye. In conclusion, it should be obvious that he wasn't the same person all his life, that is he grew, matured and wound up with a really nice lady ... thanks to the Missus. Hope I'm able to get into LA and visit the exhibit.

My first thought was Bukowski at the Huntington??!?!? How odd. But then I read in the first paragraph: "The Huntington is perceived as a conservative institution, but it's really not," David S. Zeidberg, Avery director of the library said.
I sit corrected.
Congratulations to Joan Gannij for capturing his images for posterity!

Can't believe he worked for the post office once - what a life and what at character!


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