Read 113 Pages of Charles Bukowski’s FBI File From 1968


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If cer­tain well-known writ­ers come off as a bit para­noid, they may have good cause. Then again, the Pow­ers That Be con­duct their sur­veil­lance in mys­te­ri­ous ways, nev­er tar­get­ing quite whom you’d expect. William T. Voll­mann, for instance, a nov­el­ist known less for his para­noia than his pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, recent­ly revealed in Harper’s that the Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion, on the look­out for Unabomber sus­pects, built up quite a file on him. “Indi­vid­u­als this bright are capa­ble of most any­thing,” reads one of its stark­ly type­writ­ten pages. “By all accounts, VOLLMANN is exceed­ing­ly intel­li­gent and pos­sessed with an enor­mous ego.” Per­haps writer­ly ego, albeit of an entire­ly dif­fer­ent stripe, also got post office-work­ing poet Charles Bukows­ki in trou­ble. “In 1968 var­i­ous branch­es of the U.S. gov­ern­ment per­formed an inves­ti­ga­tion into the back­ground of civ­il ser­vant Charles Bukows­ki,” accord­ing to “Appar­ent­ly the FBI and the Postal Ser­vice took offense to some of his writ­ing (main­ly the Notes From a Dirty Old Man col­umn he wrote for the Los Ange­les hip­pie tabloid Open City),” the page con­tin­ues, “and had their ‘infor­mants’ report Bukows­ki to high­er-ups in the post office.” offers 113 pages of Bukowski’s FBI file, direct­ly scanned. “He stat­ed that BUKOWSKI is an excel­lent ten­ant who nev­er asso­ciates with any of his neigh­bors,” one page reports, appar­ent­ly from an inter­view with the land­lord of Bukowski’s now-famous bun­ga­low at 5124 De Long­pre in Los Ange­les. And from an inter­ro­ga­tion of the writer him­self: “He explained that these arti­cles are ‘an inter-mix­ture of fic­tion and fact’ and are ‘high­ly roman­ti­cized in order to give the sto­ry juice.’ ” Released FBI files of this type tend to give an impres­sion of fruit­less­ness and inep­ti­tude, but at least Bukowski’s did make one dis­cov­ery that may fas­ci­nate avid fans: “Bukows­ki claimed he was mar­ried to Jane Cooney,” says “Every Bukows­ki biog­ra­phy writ­ten thus far names Bar­bara Frye as his first wife. How­ev­er, in 1952 (three years before his mar­riage to Bar­bara Frye) Bukows­ki stat­ed that he was mar­ried to Jane Cooney Bak­er — the ‘Jane’ of many of his most heart­felt works.” Once Amer­i­ca puts its ter­ror­ism prob­lems behind it, per­haps the FBI can devote its resources to more lit­er­ary research — albeit of a non-inva­sive vari­ety.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Charles Bukows­ki Poems Being Read by Bukows­ki, Tom Waits and Bono

Charles Bukows­ki Sets His Amus­ing Con­di­tions for Giv­ing a Poet­ry Read­ing (1971)

“Don’t Try”: Charles Bukowski’s Con­cise Phi­los­o­phy of Art and Life

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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