Friday, March 18, 2011

Charles Bukowski and John Fante

"Fante was my god" Charles Bukowski (from the preface to the novel, “Ask the Dust”)

The Bukowski and Fante relationship was a fascinating one.  According to Charles Bukowski, he first discovered the work of John Fante in the Los Angeles Public Library when he was a young man.  Disillusioned with most of the books he’d read up until then, he stumbled across a copy of Fante’s Ask The Dust by accident and immediately knew that he’d discovered something special.

“Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it.  The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it.  And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion.”

Bukowski read the rest of the John Fante books in publication, such as Dago Red and Wait Until Spring, Bandini.  Fante’s work was semi-autobiographical with many of his books revolving around an idealistic protagonist called Arturo Bandini and his Italian family, dominated by a headstrong and difficult father figure.  Bukowski became a big fan, especially of the Arturo Bandini novels, and Fante’s work had a profound influence on Bukowski’s style, as well as altering his perceptions of what it was possible to achieve with a novel and raising the morale of the then struggling young writer.  Bukowski became so enthralled by the Arturo Bandini character and the world that Fante had created, that he was known to drunkenly declare himself to be Arturo Bandini!

Bukowski would later cite John Fante as an important influence on his writing in an interview.  The increased publicitiy that Charles Bukowski gave Fante meant that Black Sparrow Press republished many of Fante’s novels leading to a renewed interest in his work.  (After writing a number of novels as a young man, Fante had gone on to make a living writing for the movie industry as a screenwriter, generally doing what he would describe as “hack work”, performing written work purely for a paycheck.)

Towards the end of Fante’s life, Bukowski went to see him at his home in Los Angeles.  Fante was very ill by that stage, suffering from serious complications arising from the diabetes he had for a number of years.  The disease had left him blind and he’d lost both legs to amputation.  Bukowski explained to Fante that he’d been an admirer of his work ever since he was in his twenties.  Despite his disabilities, Fante finished one final novel before he died, Dreams from Bunker Hill, by dictating it to his wife.  Bunker Hill was an area of Los Angeles where both Fante and Bukowski had lived as young men.





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