Charles Bukowski, American Author

Prolific and influential 20th-century poet, short story writer, and novelist

Meet Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski was born in Germany, shortly after World War I, to a German mother and an American soldier father. When he was two years eight months old, he and his parents boarded a ship and sailed to the United States, where they settled in Los Angeles, California, near Bukowski's father's family.

Shortly after America joined World War II, Bukowski left Los Angeles (possibly to avoid military service, though the draft board eventually caught up with him in New Orleans). He traveled around the country, spending extended periods in Philadelphia and New Orleans. During his travels, he occasionally returned to Los Angeles, but in 1947 he returned to Los Angeles permanently and lived there for the rest of his life.

While "on the road," Bukowski was published for the first time in Story magazine. The year was 1944, and he was 24 years old. At that time, he was primarily a short story writer who only occasionally wrote poetry. But a decade later, in 1954, that would change after Bukowski suffered an internal hemorrhage and spent nine days on the cusp of death in Los Angeles County Hospital. After that experience, he began writing much more poetry and quickly became one of the most unique and influential voices in 20th-century American poetry.

Ultimately, Bukowski is perhaps more well-known for his novels, such as Post Office, Factotum, Women, and Ham on Rye, than for his poetry. But even while working on novels, he continued to write poetry and short stories. In fact, at the time of his death in 1994, Bukowski had written over 5,300 poems and stories. And those are only the titles that we know of. There were likely hundreds more written—and subsequently lost—in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s before he began keeping copies of his work.

Film adaptations of Bukowski's books

In 1979 Bukowski began writing the screenplay for what would become the film Barfly. After years of delays and wrangling, Barbet Schroeder made the film with Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway in the leading roles. Bukowski wrote about the experience in his funny, underrated novel Hollywood. In the same year, 1987, a Belgian film was released based on Bukowski's short stories called Crazy Love. Other film adaptations of Bukowski's work include the Italian film Tales of Ordinary Madness, starring Ben Gazzara, and Factotum, with Matt Dillon taking his turn playing Bukowski.

How to find information on any Bukowski poem or story is the world's most comprehensive resource for information on Charles Bukowski's life and work. Access 1,700 poem and letter manuscripts and search our massive publications database to find extensive details about poems, stories, books, and recordings. The database is the result of decades of research by a wide range of experts.

Bukowski bibliography, timeline, art, FBI files and more

If you're looking for something to read, take a look at our Checklist of every Bukowski book, and browse a selection of Bukowski poems, stories and interviews. You can also read the entire FBI file that was compiled on Bukowski, along with an illustrated timeline of his life and times, hundreds of examples of art that he made, photos, even an interactive map showing where he lived and worked.

Contents of the Bukowski database

The Bukowski database currently contains information on:

Find what you love and let it kill you. Or maybe not.

Many of the quotes attributed to Charles Bukowski on the internet are quotes from other people or outright fabrications. Perhaps most notably, "Find what you love and let it kill you," words attributed to Bukowski in countless places on the internet. But those are not Bukowski's words. They are the words of songwriter Kinky Friedman. So if you absolutely must get the quote tattooed on your body somewhere, be sure to put Kinky Friedman's name under it, not Charles Bukowski's.

While Charles Bukowski died on March 9, 1994, his influence on modern poetry continues to be felt, despite his epitaph: Don't try.