Charles Bukowski was born on August 16, 1920 in Andernach, Germany, the son of a US soldier and German woman. His family immigrated to the United States in 1922 and settled in Los Angeles, where Bukowski spent most of his life. His father was in and out of work during the Depression years and was a reputed tyrant, verbally and physically abusing his son throughout his childhood. It was perhaps to numb himself from his father's abuse that Bukowski began drinking at the age of 13, initiating his life-long affair with alcohol.
After graduating from Los Angeles High School in 1939 Bukowski studied for a time at Los Angeles City College, taking courses in journalism and literature. He left school and home in 1941 after his father, who had finally read some of Bukowski's stories, threw his son's possessions into the street. Bukowski continued to write stories and traveled across America, supporting himself with a string of odd jobs: gas station attendant, elevator operator, truck driver, and overseer in a dog biscuit factory, to name a few.
In 1944 his story Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip was published in the magazine Story. He returned to Los Angeles and met Janet Cooney Baker, with whom he lived for the next ten years. In 1955, Bukowski was hospitalized with an alcohol-induced bleeding ulcer and came close to death. After a brief marriage to Barbara Frye, the rich publisher of a small poetry magazine, Bukowski took a job as a post office clerk in 1958, a job he held for the next twelve years.
In 1955, Bukowski also began writing poetry, publishing volumes almost annually. His first collection, Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, appeared in 1959. It was 30 pages long and the print run was only 200 copies. Bukowski's first volume of prose, All Assholes in the World and Mine, was published seven years later. By 1963, the year Bukowski published It Catches My Heart in Its Hands--a collection of poetry about alcoholics, prostitutes, losing gamblers, and other down-and-outs--he had developed a loyal following, and was famous for his use of violent images and graphic language in his work. His column Notes of a Dirty Old Man appeared regularly in Open City and Los Angles Free Press, and its run was later collected in book by the same title (1969). In 1970, Bukowski quit his job with the Postal Service when John Martin of the Black Sparrow Press offered him a $100 monthly stipend to continue his writing.
Although prolific, Bukowski remained a literary outsider who published his works with small presses, primarily on the West Coast. His short stories are unsparingly realistic and usually comic. They often observe the thoughts and actions of Bukowski's alter ego Henry Chinaski, a hard-drinking unskilled worker, a lover of classical music, and a racetrack gambler. This character was introduced in Bukowski's 1965 autobiographical Confessions of a Man Insane Enough to Live with the Beasts. In 1973, Bukowski gained a wider audience when an award-winning television documentary by director Taylor Hackford was aired, and he also began an incidental career in the film industry. The 1983 film Tales of Ordinary Madness, directed by Marco Ferreri, was based on stories of the author. Its script drew material from Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and Tales of Ordinary Madness. The screenplay for the film Barfly (1987) was written by Bukowski himself and directed by Barbet Schroeder, and the experience of the filming became the subject of the 1989 novel Hollywood. Crazy Love/Love is a Dog from Hell (1989), directed by Dominique Deruddere, was based on The Copulating Mermaid of Venice and other stories by Bukowski.
In 1985 Bukowski married Linda Lee Beighle, a health food proprietor twenty-five years his junior. He had one daughter, Marina Louise, who was born in 1965 to Bukowski and Francis Dean Smith. In his later years, success caught up with the author at last and he evolved from down-and-out to up-and-in: he lived in a house with a swimming pool, drove a black BMW, wrote on a computer, and enjoyed his favorite recordings of Sibelius, Mahler, and Rossini on a new stereo.
Charles Bukowski died at age 73 on March 9, 1994, at a hospital in San Pedro, California, after an almost year-long bout with leukemia.