His paternal grandfather Leonard had emigrated to America from Germany in the 1880s. In Cleveland, Leonard met Emilie Krause, who had emigrated from Danzig (today Gdańsk, Poland), then part of Germany. They married and settled in Pasadena. He worked as a carpenter, setting up his own very successful construction company.
The couple had four children, including Heinrich (Henry), Charles Bukowski's father. Charles Bukowski's parents met in Andernach in western Germany following World War I. The poet's father was a sergeant in the United States Army serving in Germany following Germany's defeat in 1918. He had an affair with Katharina, a German friend's sister, and she became pregnant. Charles Bukowski repeatedly claimed to be born out of wedlock, but Andernach marital records indicate that his parents married one month prior to his birth. Afterwards, Henry Bukowski became a building contractor, set to make great financial gains in the aftermath of the war, and after two years moved the family to Pfaffendorf.
However, given the crippling reparations being required of Germany, which led to a stagnant economy and high levels of inflation, Henry Bukowski was unable to make a living, so he decided to move the family to the United States. On April 23, 1923, they sailed from Bremerhaven to Baltimore, Maryland, where they settled. Bukowski's parents began calling their son the Anglophone version of his first name ('Heinrich'), 'Henry', in order to help him assimilate, which the poet would later change to 'Charles'. Accordingly, they altered the pronunciation of the family name from /buːˈkɒfski/ boo-KOF-skee to /buːˈkaʊski/ boo-KOW-ski.
Bukowski's parents were Roman Catholic. The family settled in South Central Los Angeles in 1930, the city where Charles Bukowski's father and grandfather had previously worked and lived. In the '30s the poet's father was often unemployed. In the autobiographical Ham on Rye Charles Bukowski says that, with his mother's acquiescence, his father was frequently abusive, both physically and mentally, beating his son for the smallest imagined offence. During his youth Bukowski was shy and socially withdrawn, a condition exacerbated during his teens by an extreme case of acne.
Neighborhood children ridiculed his German accent and the clothing his parents made him wear. In Bukowski -- Born Into This, a 2003 film, Bukowski states that his father beat him with a razor strop three times a week from the ages of 6 to 11. He says that it helped his writing, as he came to understand undeserved pain. Although he seemed to suffer from dyslexia, he was highly praised at school for his art work.
This depression later bolstered his rage as he grew, and gave him much of his voice and material for his writings. In his early teens, Bukowski had an epiphany when he was introduced to alcohol by his loyal friend William "Baldy" Mullinax, depicted as "Eli LaCrosse" in Ham on Rye, son of an alcoholic surgeon. "This [alcohol] is going to help me for a very long time", he later wrote, describing the genesis of his chronic alcoholism; or, as he saw it, the genesis of a method he could utilize to come to more amicable terms with his own life. After graduating from Los Angeles High School, Bukowski attended Los Angeles City College for two years, taking courses in art, journalism, and literature, before quitting at the start of World War II. He then moved to New York to begin a career as a writer. On July 22, 1944, with World War II ongoing, Bukowski was arrested by FBI agents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he was living at the time, on suspicion of draft evasion.
He was held for 17 days in Philadelphia's Moyamensing Prison. Sixteen days later he failed a psychological exam that was part of his mandatory military entrance "physical" and was given a Selective Service Classification of 4-F (unfit for military service). When Bukowski was 24, his short story, "Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip", was published in Story magazine. Two years later, another short story, "20 Tanks from Kasseldown", was published by the Black Sun Press in Issue III of Portfolio: An Intercontinental Quarterly, a limited-run, loose-leaf broadside collection printed in 1946 and edited by Caresse Crosby. Failing to break into the literary world, Bukowski grew disillusioned with the publication process and quit writing for almost a decade, a time that he referred to as a "ten-year drunk".
These "lost years" formed the basis for his later semi-autobiographical chronicles, although they are fictionalized versions of Bukowski's life through his highly stylized alter-ego, Henry Chinaski. During part of this period he continued living in Los Angeles, working at a pickle factory for a short time but also spending some time roaming about the United States, working sporadically and staying in cheap rooming houses. In the early 1950s, Bukowski took a job as a fill-in letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service in Los Angeles but resigned just before he reached three years' service. In 1955 he was treated for a near-fatal bleeding ulcer. After leaving the hospital he began to write poetry.
In 1957 he agreed to marry small-town Texas poet Barbara Frye, sight unseen, but they divorced in 1959. According to Howard Sounes's Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life, she later died under mysterious circumstances in India. Following his divorce, Bukowski resumed drinking and continued writing poetry. Read more on Last.fm.
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