Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters, 1978-1994


Literary Criticism. Reach for the Sun is the third volume of Bukowski's letters from Black Sparrow Press, selected by Seamus Cooney.

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Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters, 1978-1994

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Literary Criticism. Reach for the Sun is the third volume of Bukowski's letters from Black Sparrow Press, selected by Seamus Cooney.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
These letters cover the final years of Bukowski's life, a bittersweet period that brought fame and prosperity along with tuberculosis and leukemia. Bukowski's correspondents, mostly publishers, editors, and fellow poets, include John Martin, William Packard, and Gerald Locklin. His letters to them rant against his critics, praise early influences like C line and John Fante, and harp on his favorite subjects: wine, women, and the racetrack. Above all, however, they reveal a man dedicated to his craft. Bukowski lived to write, and he is quick to express his gratitude for the "three miracles in [his] life: Loujon Press, The Black Sparrow Press, and The New York Quarterly"--outlets for his work that helped transform Bukowski from a barfly to an internationally celebrated author. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.--William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowsk is one of America's best-known contemporary writers of poetry and prose, and, many would claim, its most influential and imitated poet. He was born in 1920 in Andernach, Germany, to an American soldier father and a German mother, and brought to the United States at the age of three. He was raised in Los Angeles and lived there for fifty years. He published his first story in 1944 when he was twenty-four and began writing poetry at the age of thirty-five. He died in San Pedro, California, on March 9, 1994, at the age of seventy-three, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp.


During the course of his long, prolific literary career, Charles Bukowski was known as a poet, novelist, short story writer, and journalist. But it is as a cult figure, an "honorary beat" who chronicled his notorious lifestyle in raw, unflinching poetry and prose, that he is best remembered. Born in the aftermath of World War I to a German mother and an American serviceman of German descent, he was brought to the U.S. at the age of three and raised in Los Angeles. By all accounts, his childhood was lonely and unhappy: His father beat him regularly, and he suffered from debilitating shyness and a severely disfiguring case of acne. By his own admission, he underwent a brief flirtation with the far right, associating as a teenager with Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. After high school, he attended Los Angeles City College for two years, studying art, literature, and journalism before dropping out.

Although two of his stories were published in small literary magazines while he was still in his early 20s, Bukowski became discouraged by his lack of immediate success and gave up writing for ten years. During this time he drifted around the country, working odd jobs; fraternizing with bums, hustlers, and whores; and drinking so excessively that he nearly died of a bleeding ulcer.

In the late 1950s, Bukowski returned to writing, churning out copious amounts of poetry and prose while supporting himself with mind-numbing clerical work in the post office. Encouraged and mentored by Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin, he finally quit his job in 1969 to concentrate on writing full time. In 1985, he married his longtime girlfriend Linda Lee Beighle. Together they moved to San Pedro, California, where Bukowski began to live a saner, more stable existence. He continued writing until his death from leukemia in 1994, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp.

Bukowski mined his notorious lifestyle for an oeuvre that was largely autobiographical. In literally thousands of poems, he celebrated the skid row drunks and derelicts of his misspent youth; and, between 1971 and 1989, he penned five novels (Post Office, Factotum, Women, Ham on Rye, and Hollywood) featuring Henry Chinaski, an alcoholic, womanizing, misanthrope he identified as his literary alter ego. (He also wrote the autobiographical screenplay for the 1987 film Barfly, starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.) Yet, for all the shock value of his graphic language and violent, unlovely images, Bukowski's writing retains a startling lyricism. Today, years after his death, he remains one of the 20th century's most influential and widely imitated writers.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      August 16, 1920
    2. Place of Birth:
      Andernach, Germany
    1. Date of Death:
      March 9, 1994
    2. Place of Death:
      San Pedro, California
    1. Education:
      Los Angeles City College, 2 years

Read an Excerpt

Reach for the Sun

Selected Letters 1978-1994
By Seamus Cooney

Black Sparrow Books

Copyright © 1999 Seamus Cooney
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1574230905

Chapter One


[To William Packard]
July 16, 1978

Back from Germany. West to a racetrack there and a couple of castles. Racetrack had no toteboard. My whole method of play revolves around the toteboard. The castles were cheaper. The last issue of the NYQ was the best - #21. People are getting to write more and more like I do.

Packed them in at the hall at Hamburg, 1200 with 300 turned away. Drank 2 bottles of wine and sang it to them. My German editor told me no writer of books had drawn such a crowd since the fellow who had written the book "Mein Kamph" (spell?). Newspaper and television interviews. Saw myself as tv newscast ... American writer arrives ... I wave off questions, snarl answers, look mean and hungover, hair in eyes, looked authentic somehow.

Anyhow, I'm back here where it's quiet and Mailer and Capote and Vidol (spell?). Working on a book about the trip. Some guy took 3,000 photos. I'm not sure I can do it but have begun to beat the ribbon, first 25 pages done. May go to Paris in September for the French boys. May not. May turn into a complete shit. May not.

That's it. 96 degrees here. Sitting in my shorts. Have fixed these poems for your eyes for better or worse. 96 degrees here.

Smoking Sher Bidi's from Jabalpur, India and caressing the good German white wine, Bernkastel Reisling (spell? O, I can't), Brooks too Broad for Leaping, you know ...

Bukowski's daughter was 14 years old in 1978.

[To Marina Bukowski]
September 6, 1978

Hello Marina:

Happy birthday.

Enclosed an m.o. Get yourself something. You know best. There has been a great deal to do around here, writing and otherwise. Leaving for Europe on the 16th, will be back in 3 weeks plus. Meanwhile, I've got to learn to speak French, haha, and German, haha. Will probably not get to see you until I get back.

I hope going back to school is not too tedious for you. I never liked it.


[To William Packard]
December 31, 1978 10 p.m.

I am sitting in this place in San Pedro, strapped with mortgage payments because my tax accountant says it's a good thing. "Look, man," I told him, "you don't understand writers. This thing is going to kill me." I've got this old desk here and I can step out on this balcony and see the harbor lights. Much trouble here - fell into the fireplace drunk the other night, really got scalded and tore a few muscle sheaths. My girlfriend put cat medicine on my side ... 2 trips to Europe this year. last one I am sitting in Paris and my French editor says, "you want to go see Sartre?" No, I tell him. I got up and got shit-ass drunk on national French tv before 50 million Frenchmen. I am having Henry Miller luck in Europe; well, not Henry Miller luck, say one-quarter Henry Miller luck ... novel, Women, finally out. trying to do a screenplay to be directed by Barber Schroeder, writing short stories for Hustler, trying to change my luck at the racetrack. I like San Pedro, the blacks, Mexicans, whites, all mix without much trouble or tension - so far. I mean, since I've been here. Europe is clean and quick and a dollar there buys about what a quarter does here. The whores of Paris lovely, lovely ... I've got to do another 15 years of good, hard writinglet's see: 58 and 15 equals ... well, best not to think about that ... Met a guy at the track the other day. "Man," he said, "we sure miss you down at the post office! you were really funny, man!" the "funny" he was talking about were those sounds I was making from the cross ... Got your card. Packard, I don't know where the fuck your love is ... O.k....

p.s. - I guess you've moved by now and this will be intercepted by a batch of Porto Rican pimps. O.k., they'll like it. I do too.


Excerpted from Reach for the Sun by Seamus Cooney Copyright © 1999 by Seamus Cooney. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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