Bukowski was able to sell relatively early his first short story to a magazine – he was only twenty four years old –, and managed to sell a few more in the following years, but the difficulties in the literary business soon exasperated the young Bukowski, that grew severely disillusioned on his dream to become a writer, and for almost a decade, he ceased to write. In order to maintain himself, he worked in all kinds of odd jobs, and this period of his life is well described – although in fictionalized versions – in autobiographical novels, such as Factotum (which is a Latin word that literally means “Do Everything”, in reference to a worker that literally do all kinds of jobs) and Ham on Rye, which covers a long period of his life, from infancy to adulthood.
Barfly, a 1987 movie starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway, was written by Bukowski, as a work commissioned by renowned film director Barbet Schroeder. Though they had minor disagreements – Bukowski wanted his friend Sean Penn to star in the main role, and Sean Penn by his turn wanted the film to be directed by Dennis Hopper, although Bukowski wouldn’t deliver to Hopper a script that was solicited by another director – the movie came along well. Semi-autobiographical in tone, Barfly shows the ups and downs of Henry Chinaski – the alter ego of Bukowski in his fiction works – in an almost permanent alcoholic stupor, wandering endlessly through the underground decadent bars of L.A, not knowing precisely what directions to follow in life. Bukowski made a cameo appearance in the film. Sean Penn and Bukowski remained very close friends, until Bukowski’s death in 1994.
From the early seventies, until his death, in March 9, 1994, aged seventy three, Bukowski was a full time writer, that has written hundreds of poems and short stories, as well as dozens of articles, columns and non-fiction pieces for underground newspapers and magazines. Most of his work published in periodicals was eventually collected, and printed in book form. Nevertheless, today he is best remembered for his six novels, that went to be his most successful literary achievements: Post Office, Factotum, Women, Ham on Rye, Hollywood and Pulp. He also worked occasionally as a film scriptwriter.
His main literary themes were mundane ones: alcohol, sex, his complicate relationships with women, the ups and downs of life in L.A, the act of writing, trying to break into the literary business and, in later life, dealing with fame and notoriety. He is frequently cited as the poet and philosopher of the marginalized, poor, neglected and forgotten ones, probably because he was all those things, before the world was able to acknowledge him as a talented, proficient and versatile writer.