Archives for posts with tag: John Fante


contemporary literature, one (excerpt)

poem by Charles Bukowski

…I saw some newspapers

on the floor

I was out of writing


had long ago hocked 

my typewriter

I noticed that 

each page of the

newspaper had a wide white

margin around the 


I had a pencil


I picked up a 

newspaper and with

the pencil stub

I began to write words 

on the edge

sitting in the doorway

freezing in the moonlight

so that I could


I wrote in pencil 

on all the edges 

of all the newspapers 

in that shack…

Illustration: “Charles Bukowski” by Jeremy Hara. If you aren’t familiar with Jeremy Hara’s ouevre, he draws on U.S. currency — and has created clever portraits of iconic figures in American arts and letters, including Andy Warhol, R. Crumb, Kurt Vonnegut, and Mark Twain. For more about Jeremy Hara, visit his blog.

Note: Find “contemporary literature, one” in Charles Bukowski‘s Dangling in the Tournefortia (1981), a collection of poetry he dedicated to his writing idol John Fante. Find the book on


In his novel Mysteries (1892), Norwegian author Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) offers a master class in how to open a story, introduce a main character, and create dramatic interest. Henry Miller called  the novel “closer to me than any other book I have read.”

The opening paragraphs set up the story and the basic plot in a suspenseful way that pulls in the reader. No wonder so many of the modern masters – including Ernest Hemingway, John Fante, and Charles Bukowski – admired Hamsun and considered him one of their greatest teachers.  According to Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun.”

Now let’s hear from Hamsun about the man in the yellow suit. 

MYSTERIES, Chapter 1 (Opening passage)

by Knut Hamsun

In the middle of the summer of 1891 the most extraordinary things began happening in a small Norwegian coastal town. A stranger by the name of Nagel appeared, a singular character who shook the town by his eccentric behavior and then vanished as suddenly as he had come…

It all started at six one evening when a steamer landed at the dock and three passengers appeared on deck. One of them was a man wearing a loud yellow suit and an outsized courduroy cap. It was the evening of the twelfth of June; flags were flying all over town in honor of Miss Kielland’s engagement, which had been announced that day. The porter from the Central Hotel went aboard and the man in the yellow suit handed him his baggage. At the same time, he surrendered his ticket to one of the ship’s officers, but made no move to go ashore, and began pacing up and down the deck. He seemed extremely agitated, and when the ship’s bell rang the third time, he hadn’t even paid the steward his bill. 

While he was taking care of his bill, he suddeny became aware that the ship was pulling out. Startled, he shouted over the railing to the porter below: “It’s all right. Take my baggage to the hotel and reserve a room for me.” 

With that, the ship carried him out into the fjord.

This man was Johan Nilsen Nagel.

The porter took his baggage away on a cart. It consisted of only two small trunks, a fur coat (although it was the middle of summer), a satchel, and a violin case. None of them had any identification tags. 

Photo: Men’s Wearhouse


In August 2010, Skylight Books in Los Feliz hosted a gala event to celebrate Charles Bukowski‘s 90th birthday. Gerald Locklin read poems, Linda Bukowski was in the audience, Pamela “Cupcakes” Wood stopped by. When the festivities started, one of the hosts read a trivia question and promised a Bukowski T-shirt to first person who called out the answer. I won the first “I’d rather be reading Bukowski” T-shirt of the night! (The winning answer was “John Fante.” The question was: Who is Skylight Books’ top-selling writer? I figured it was a trick question, considering we were all there to celebrate Buk’s birthday.)


“The lean days of determination. That was the word for it, determination: Arturo Bandini in front of his typewriter two full days in succession, determined to succeed; but it didn’t work, the longest siege of hard and fast determination in his life, and not one line done, only two words written over and over across the page, up and down, the same words: palm tree, palm tree, a battle to the death between the palm tree and me, and the palm tree won: see it out there swaying in the blue air, creaking sweetly in the blue air. The palm tree won after two fighting days, and I crawled out of the window and sat at the foot of the tree. Time passed, a moment or two, and I slept, little brown ants carousing in the hair on my legs.”

From Chapter 1 of Ask the Dust by JOHN FANTE


“Please God, please Knut Hamsun, don’t desert me now.” JOHN FANTE, Dreams of Bunker Hill

Black Sparrow Press published Dreams of Bunker Hill in 1982, the year before John Fante passed away at age 74.  During Fante’s final years, he suffered the debilitating effects of diabetes — losing both his vision and his legs to the disease. But despite the challenges and disappointments in his life — including frustrating years as a Hollywood screenwriter — Fante never lost that “animal gusto” (to use Raymond Chandler‘s expression) that allowed him to create great works of art.

Case in point is his final novel Dreams of Bunker HIll — a bookend to his masterpiece Ask the Dust — which explores the writing career of his fictional alter ego Arturo Bandini. Dreams of Bunker Hill is fresh, full of life, funny, and feels like the work of a young man — though a blind, septuagenarian Fante dictated the book to his wife Joyce, who transcribed his words into written form. How Fante was able to envision a book he couldn’t outline or see has always inspired and amazed me.

What I love about Fante’s novels is that they seem a total revelation — even if you’ve read them before. They are always there, waiting to be enjoyed.

In the final pages of Dreams from Bunker HIll, Fante calls on his idol, Knut Hamsun, to help him write his novel — and Hamsun didn’t let him down.


I used to live next door to a woman from Norway. Once when I mentioned my admiration for Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun, she corrected my pronunciation of his first name from “Newt” to “Ka-newt” – yes you pronounce the “K.” Am I the only American who didn’t know this?

I first learned of Hamsun’s novel Hunger years ago when a colleague at an ad agency recommended it (yes, some people who work in advertising have souls!). As soon as I read Hunger, the novel ranked among my top-five favorite books. I reread it every few years and each time get caught up in the protagonist’s story as if reading about this starving writer for the first time. Here is the opening line:

It was in those days when I wandered about hungry in Kristiania, that strange city which no one leaves before it has set its mark upon him.”

Hamsun’s work had a huge influence on some of the 20th century’s leading novelists. Here are some of their words:

 “Hamsun taught me to write.” ERNEST HEMINGWAY

 “I told her that Knut Hamsun had been the world’s greatest writer.” CHARLES BUKOWSKI, Women

“Please God, please Knut Hamsun, don’t desert me…” JOHN FANTE, Dreams of Bunker Hill

In 1920, Hamsun won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He lived to the great age of 92, passing away in 1952. Toward the end of his life, Hamsun suffered from a form of dementia that caused him to make political statements where it’s unlikely he knew what he was saying. Let’s forgive and forget.

Knut Hamsun invented the modern novel, and has been praised by legions of our finest writers for his innovations – such as stream of consciousness and interior monologue – that bring the protagonist to vivid life and allow readers to know the story’s hero to the bottom of his soul.

Photo: Clancy & Knut  (copy of Hunger purchased at thrift store for $1)


The good days, the fat days, page upon page of manuscript; prosperous days, something to say…the pages mounted and I was happy. Fabulous days, the rent paid, still fifty dollars in my wallet, nothing to do all day and night but write and think of writing; ah, such sweet days, to see it grow, to worry for it, myself, my book, my words, maybe important, maybe timeless, but mine nevertheless, the indomitable Arturo Bandini, already deep into his first novel. “

From Chapter Sixteen, Ask the Dust by John Fante, originally published in 1939

A masterpiece among masterpieces, this novel is in my top-10 all-time favorites list! Available in a beautiful (and affordable) paperback edition, here.

Photo: Vintage notecard found on Flickr.