Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Celebrating Bukowski at the Huntington Library

Michael Sedano

I wonder how many readers have not spent hours laughing at Hank Chinaski’s wino antics, or joining his lament at some everyday brutality, or merely reveling in writer Charles Bukowski’s mastery of word, language, and story? I reckon only a handful.

The 1970s reader came well-prepared for Bukowski’s characters. Events of the day bred a taste for literature with distinct risk, irony, satire, and authenticity. They had made cult favorites of works like Candy, A Clockwork Orange, Stranger in a Strange Land, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Enter Henry Chinaski’s unique take on the blue collar world and authenticity. Whereas Bob Dylan had said a bum, seen at a distance, vomiting in the street is “real”, Bukowski had been drinking all day with that bum, then writing about the experience all night. And attracting eager readers.

Bukowski’s world complemented the cult reader’s appetites. Here is McMurphy’s craziness, but lived on the outside where Chinaski can outwit the big nurses, or just walk away. No politics, no protest, no changing the world, just the laid back futility of alcohol. Yet, the fellow wrote and wrote and wrote. Better, this stuff has staying power. Parents handed down to their high school kids, tattered copies of the 1971 Post Office, 1975’s Factotum. The kids, in turn, handed their parents 1983’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Town & Other Stories. Bukowski was on the English 101 reading lists. “Dad, you were right.”

That Charles Bukowski left cult status years ago is not news. It may be news that the author’s widow, Linda Lee Bukowski, donated his literary estate --manuscripts, letters, artifacts—all the incunabula of the writer’s career, to San Marino’s Huntington Library. A scholarly research institution, the Huntington’s home page lists its treasures including “the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a copy of the Gutenberg Bible on vellum, the double-elephant folio edition of Audubon's Birds of America, and an unsurpassed collection of the early editions of Shakespeare's works.”

The first exhibit of Bukowski materials comes in 2010, after the library catalogs and digitizes everything. Visit the digital library for an inkling of how the Huntington treats its materials.

In the meantime, an audience spanning the generations of Bukowski readers—including one mother pregnant with a third generation of Bukowski readers in the house-- were treated by the Huntington to “Celebrating Bukowski,” an evening of greetings, readings and interviews.

Sadly, John Martin, whose Black Sparrow Press published Bukowski, was ill and did not attend the celebration to be interviewed on stage. Sharing their personal anecdotes of working with the artist were Joanne Gordon, producer of a stage piece, “Love, Bukowski,” and Jim Stark, producer of the movie “Factotum”.

Oral readings included “On The Hustle”, performed by John Short, Ham on Rye selection read by Clive Saunders, “Crucifix In A Death Hand” read by Neeli Cherkovski, “Clothes Cost Money,” performed by Shaunte’ Caraballo, “I am Known” performed by John Short, “Torched-Out” read by Harry Dean Stanton, “The Genius of the Crowd” read by S.A. Griffin, “The History of a Tough Motherfucker” performed by Mark Piatelli, “No Eulogies” performed by Short. The capstone was Stanton’s oral interp of Linda Lee Bukowski’s favorite of her husband’s poems, “The Crunch.”

Huntington staff express delight at the acquisition but can’t help tittering that its newest literary treasure is definitively different. They also are straightforward in accepting that “motherfucker” finds a welcome home in the auditorium.

The highlight of the evening for me came when Mrs. Bukowski answered the question that must have resounded through the nation’s libraries when news of the Huntington’s acquisition arrived. “Why the Huntington?”

Linda Lee smiled out at the adoring audience. When her husband wanted solace and joy, his paradise was the stands of Santa Anita race track. Linda Lee would drive him to the track but not hang around. Instead, she drove five miles west to spend the day in the botanical gardens and rarified atmosphere of the library galleries. The Huntington is Linda Lee’s paradise so there can be no better place for her husband’s papers.

◙ CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: The first, maybe annual, La Bloga Día de los Muertos Amoxcalli-Descansos Contest. (More about the title, later.)

Here's your chance to get exposure for your great piece relating to el Día de los Muertos. Through Oct. 24th we will accept prose, poetry, essay, in English or Spanish or Spanglish--just about anything concerning this indigenous/modern tradition. Fantasy, children's stories, young adult, horror, serious, or not so--anything you want to share on La Bloga.

Shorter pieces are preferred (less than 500 words), since we are the editorial staff and will base decisions on quality and how little work is required of us. That week, los Bloguistas will do their regular contributions on the subject, along with readers' submissions, with one prize winner featured each day. So, get it polished 'cause more details are coming Thursday.

And here arrives the last Tuesday of September 2006. Tempus Fugit, so carpe a few diems and get that chimney cleaned out in readiness for that first crisp morning, reading a book by the fireplace. Does it get much better than that?

See you next week.



Manuel Ramos said...

You should see Bukowski: Born Into This - a classy documentary about this writer and his edge. Here's a link to a NY Times review of the movie:


Anonymous said...

Seen it. Maybe with you, don't remember. It was fokkin' great!

Bukowski, a great American.

Excellent posting, Sedano.