Friday, October 4, 2013

Bukowski's First Appearance In Print, 1944

by Stephen J. Gertz

A wonderful association copy of the scarce March-April 1944 issue of Story, featuring the first published work by Charles Bukowski - at the time only twenty-four years old - is being offered by PBA Galleries in its Beats, Counterculture & Avant Garde - Literature - Science Fiction. Collection of Richard Synchef sale, October 10, 2013. It is estimated to sell for $2,500-$3,500.

Bukowski's contribution, Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip, was composed just two years after he had begun to write, and was inspired by a note from Story publisher-editor Whit Burnett regarding a recent submission:

Dear Mr. Bukowski:

Again, this is a conglomeration of extremely good stuff and other stuff so full of idolized prostitutes, morning-after vomiting scenes, misanthropy, praise for suicide etc. that it is not quite for a magazine of any circulation at all. This is, however, pretty much the saga of a certain type of person and in it I think you've done an honest job. Possibly we will print you sometime but I don't know exactly when. That depends on you.

Sincerely yours,

Whit Burnett

In Factotum (1975), Bukowski described his experience with this first publication, calling Whit Burnett "Clay Gladmore":

"Gladmore returned many of my things with personal rejections. True, most of them weren't very long but they did seem kind and they were very encouraging...So I kept him busy with four or five stories a week." 

Bukowski later recalled the circumstances of the short story's publication in an interview just shortly before he died:

"I can remember my first major publication, a short story in Whit Burnett's and Martha Foley's Story magazine, 1944. I had been sending them a couple of short stories a week for maybe a year and a half. The story they finally accepted was mild in comparison to the others. I mean in terms of content and style and gamble and exploration and all that."

But Bukowski was not happy when Burnett finally published him. Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip had been buried in the End Pages section of the magazine as, Bukowski felt, a curiosity rather than a serious piece of writing. The cover's tag line - "Author to editor with everybody discomfited" - didn't help. Bukowski felt discounted and humiliated; he never submitted anything to Story again.

In that same interview, he noted that in the aftermath of Aftermath... "I didn't feel that the publishers were ready and that although I was ready, I could be readier and I was also disgusted with what I read as accepted front-line literature. So I drank and became one of the best drinkers anywhere, which takes some talent also."

"Charles Bukowski was born in Andernach, Germany, 1920. His father was California-born of Polish parentage, and served with the American Army of Occupation in the Rhineland where he met the author's mother. He was brought to America at the age of two. He attended Los Angeles City College for a couple of years and in the two and one half years since then he has been a clerk in the postoffice, a stockroom boy for Sears Roebuck, a truck-loader nights in a bakery. He is now working as a package-wrapper and box-filler in the cellar of a ladies' sportswear shop" (Bio in Story).

Laid in to this copy of Story is a postcard from Christa Malone, daughter of Wormword Review publisher Marvin Malone, stating that this copy belonged to her father. Bukowski was the most frequent contributor to the Wormwood Review, with works appearing in more than ninety issues. It's a strong association.

Story was founded in 1931 by Whit Burnett and his first wife, Martha Foley, in Vienna, Austria. A showcase for short stories by new writers, two years later Story moved to New York City where Burnett and Foley created The Story Press in 1936.

By the late 1930s, the magazine's circulation had climbed to a relatively astounding 21,000 copies. In addition to Bukowski, Burnett and Foley published early stories by Erskine Caldwell, John Cheever, Junot Diaz, James T. Farrell, Joseph Heller, J. D. Salinger, Tennessee Williams and Richard Wright. Other authors in the pages of Story included Ludwig Bemelmans, Carson McCullers and William Saroyan.

In 1942, Burnett's second wife, Hallie Southgate Burnett, began collaborating with him and Story published the early work of Truman Capote, John Knowles and Norman Mailer. Story folded in 1967 secondary to lint in its bank account but its roster of authors established and has maintained its reputation as one of the great American literary journals.

After finishing Bulowski's Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip,  readers of Story could take advantage of a fabulous offer advertised by the Book-Of-The-Month-Club. New subscribers to the BOTMC were offered a free copy of My Friend Flicka (1941) and its sequel (1943). Those familiar with the novel will note its thematic similarities to the work of Bukowski. 

My Friend Flicka is the story of a horse and the boy that loved him, and "Flicka," as we all know, is Swedish for "little girl." Flicka was quite the filly, and Bukowski had a keen eye for fillies - at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park racetracks. And, yes, Roddy McDowall, who starred in the 1943 film adaptation (as the boy, not the horse), was a dead ringer for Charles Bukowski, though a bottle or three of whiskey may be  necessary to appreciate their resemblance to each other.

All images courtesy of PBA Galleries, with our thanks.

Of Related Interest:

Bukowski: Lost Original Drawings Of A Dirty Old Man.

Charles Bukowski, Artist.

Charles Bukowski's Last, Unpublished Poem.

Charles Bukowski Bonanza At Auction.
Dirty Old Man Exposed At The Huntington Library

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