Charles Bukowski (1920 –1994, German-American)

Bukowski and Black CatCharles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski; (1920 –1994, German-American) was a poet, novelist, and short story writer. Bukowski was the son of a German-American soldier who was with the US occupation after World War I. His father met his future wife in Andernach, married and then moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1923, where he worked as a successful carpenter. In 1930, the family moved to California.

Bukowski was abused by his father as a child, ridiculed by schoolmates for having a German accent, and was tormented for having acne. Consequently, Bukowski became socially withdrawn, depressed and angry all of which contributed to his material for writing and perhaps to his future heavy drinking.

Bukowski attended Los Angeles City College for two years, but quit at the start of World War II. He then moved to New York and dreamed of becoming a writer. 

Bukowski's cat Feather

Bukowski’s cat Feathers


On July 22, 1944 the FBI arrested him for draft evasion and suspicion of disloyalty because of his German ancestry. He was imprisoned for 17 days and was given a psychological test, which he failed, deeming him unfit for military service.

Charles Bukowski and Factotum

Bukowski and Factotum



Bukowski and Factotum 2

Bukowski and Factotum

By the age of 24, he had published is first story; however, he did not succeed in breaking into the literary world and did not write after that for 10 years. During this time he did odd jobs and traveled around the United States, eventually getting a job at a post office.

Bukowski and cat

After almost dying from a near fatal bleeding ulcer in 1955, he began to write poetry, and several of his poems were successfully published. In the 60’s, his work became popular in underground publications, and for the rest of his life he became a supporter of small independent presses. During his lifetime Bukowski was little known in the United States, but in contrast he experienced great fame in Germany, his place of birth, and Europe. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories as well as six novels, publishing over 60 books which include On Cats.

Charles Bukowski with his cat Beeker

Bukowski with his cat Beeker

Cats appear conspicuously in Bukowski’s fiction and poetry.  Not only is On Cats Bukowski’s celebration of his love for felines, but it’s also an exploration of their mysteriousness. In fact, he believed that cats can show us how to live. “In my next life I want to be a cat,” wrote Bukowski. “To sleep 20 hours a day and wait to be fed. To sit around licking my ass.” “If you’re feeling bad, you just look at the cats, you’ll feel better, because they know that everything is, just as it is. There’s nothing to get excited about. They just know. They’re saviours. The more cats you have, the longer you live. If you have a hundred cats, you’ll live 10 times longer than if you have 10. Someday this will be discovered, and people will have a thousand cats and live forever. It’s truly ridiculous.”  In his poem My Cats, included in the collection The Pleasures of the Damned, Bukowski writes of how “they complain but never/worry./they walk with a surprising dignity./they sleep with a direct simplicity that/humans just can’t/understand”, adding later: “when I am feeling/low/all I have to do is/watch my cats/and my/courage/returns.”

On Cats Charles Bukowski

1976-01-19-The Tabby Cat, Charles Bukowski

The Tabby Cat


On March 9, 1994, Bukowski died of leukemia in San Pedro, aged 73, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp. The funeral rites, arranged by his widow, were conducted by Buddhist monks even though he was an atheist. He is buried at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.

His grave stone reads “Don’t try.”  which expresses Bukowski’s belief that creativity could not be forced and that it had to be waited for. Instead, when it appears, it needs to be grabbed.

For Bukowski cat quotes click here


Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats


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  1. warren wilson says

    Would never, ever have heard of Bukowski without your diligence and love for your subject. May you live long.

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