Early yearsBorn as Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany, to Heinrich Bukowski and Katharina (née Fett), his mother was a native German and his father was an American serviceman with some German and Polish roots who met her after World War I had ended. Bukowski's parents were Roman Catholic. He claimed to be an illegitimate child; Andernach marital records, however, indicate that his parents married one month prior to his birth.
Due to the collapse of the German economy following the end of World War I, the family emigrated to the United States in 1923 and initially settled in Baltimore, Maryland. Wanting a more Anglophone kind of name, Bukowski's parents began addressing young Heinrich as "Henry" and altered the pronunciation of the family name from /buːˈkɒfski/ boo-KOF-skee to /buːˈkaʊski/ boo-KOW-ski; the surname is of Polish origin. The family settled in South Central Los Angeles in 1930, the city from which his father's family originated. During Bukowski's childhood his father was often unemployed, and Bukowski stated in the autobiographical Ham on Rye that, with his mother's acquiescence, his father was frequently abusive, both physically and mentally.
During his youth Bukowski was shy and socially withdrawn, a condition exacerbated during his teens by an extreme case of acne.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 his early teens Henry had an epiphany when he was introduced to alcohol by his friend William "Baldy" Mullinax, 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.
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).
Early writingWhen 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 autobiographical chronicles, although the veracity of his accounts has frequently been called into question.
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. Frye insisted that their separation had nothing to do with literature, though she often doubted his skill as a poet. 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.
 1960sBy 1960, Bukowski had returned to the post office in Los Angeles where he began work as a letter filing clerk, a position he held for over a decade. In 1962, he was traumatized by the death of Jane Cooney Baker, the object of his first serious romantic attachment. Bukowski turned his inner devastation into a series of poems and stories lamenting her passing. Jane is considered to be the greatest love of his life and was the most important in a long series of muses who inspired his writing, according to biographer Jory Sherman. In 1964 a daughter, Marina Louise Bukowski, was born to Bukowski and his live-in girlfriend Frances Smith, whom he referred to as a "white-haired hippy", "shack-job" and "old snaggle-tooth".
Jon and Louise Webb, now recognized as giants of the post-war 'small-press movement', published The Outsider literary magazine and featured some of Bukowski's poetry. Under the Loujon Press imprint, they published Bukowski's It Catches My Heart In Its Hands in 1963 and Crucifix in a Deathhand in 1965.
Beginning in 1967 Bukowski wrote the column "Notes of A Dirty Old Man" for Los Angeles' Open City, an underground newspaper. When Open City was shut down in 1969 the column was picked up by the Los Angeles Free Press along with NOLA Express in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1969 Bukowski and Neeli Cherkovski launched their own short-lived mimeographed literary magazine, Laugh Literary and Man the Humping Guns. They produced three issues over the next two years.
 Black Sparrow yearsIn 1969 Bukowski accepted an offer from Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin and quit his post office job to dedicate himself to full-time writing. He was then 49 years old. As he explained in a letter at the time, "I have one of two choices — stay in the post office and go crazy ... or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve." Less than one month after leaving the postal service he finished his first novel, Post Office. As a measure of respect for Martin's financial support and faith in a relatively unknown writer, Bukowski published almost all of his subsequent major works with Black Sparrow Press. As an avid supporter of the small independent presses, however, he continued to submit poems and short stories to innumerable small publications throughout his career.
Bukowski embarked on a series of love affairs and one-night trysts. One of these relationships was with Linda King, a poet and sculptress. Critic Robert Peters viewed the debut of Linda King’s play The Tenant in which she and Bukowski starred back in the 1970s in Los Angeles. This play was a one-off performance. His other affairs were with a recording executive and a 23 year-old redhead; he wrote a book of poetry as a tribute of his love for the latter, titled, "Scarlet" (Black Sparrow Press, 1976). His various affairs and relationships provided material for his stories and poems. Another important relationship was with "Tanya", pseudonym of "Amber O'Neil" (also a pseudonym), described in Bukowski's "Women" as a pen-pal that evolved into a weekend tryst at Bukowski's residence in Los Angeles in the 1970s. "Amber O'Neil" later wrote a book about the affair entitled "Blowing My Hero" which was not published due to the inclusion of several love letters Bukowski had written to her.
Meher Baba, leader of an Indian religious society. Two years later Bukowski moved from the East Hollywood area, where he had lived for most of his life, to the harborside community of San Pedro, the southernmost district of the City of Los Angeles. Beighle followed him and they lived together intermittently over the next two years. They were eventually married by Manly Palmer Hall, a Canadian-born author and mystic, in 1985. Beighle is referred to as "Sara" in Bukowski's novels Women and Hollywood.
DeathBukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994, in San Pedro, California, aged 73, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp. The funeral rites, orchestrated by his widow, were conducted by Buddhist monks. An account of the proceedings can be found in Gerald Locklin's book Charles Bukowski: A Sure Bet. His gravestone reads: "Don't Try", a phrase which Bukowski uses in one of his poems, advising aspiring writers and poets about inspiration and creativity. Bukowski explained the phrase in a 1963 letter to John William Corrington: "Somebody at one of these places [...] asked me: "What do you do? How do you write, create?" You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it."
In 2007 and 2008 there was a movement to save Bukowski's bungalow at 5124 De Longpre Ave. from destruction. The campaign was spearheaded by preservationist Lauren Everett. The cause was covered extensively in the local and international press, including a feature in Beatdom magazine, and was ultimately successful. The bungalow subsequently was listed as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument called Bukowski Court. The cause was criticized by some as cheapening Bukowski's "outsider" reputation.