Charles Bukowski described the writer and novelist John Fante as his God—the one man who deeply influenced his own literary career.
Bukowski first discovered Fante’s work while looking for something to read at the Los Angeles Public Library.
“I was a young man, starving and drinking and trying to be a writer… It seemed as if everybody was playing word-tricks, that those who said almost nothing at all were considered excellent writers. Their writing was an admixture of subtlety, craft and form, and it was read and it was taught and it was ingested and it was passed on. It was a comfortable contrivance, a very slick and careful Word-Culture… one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was…
“The lines rolled easily across the page, there was a flow. Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humour and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity. The beginning of that book was a wild and enormous miracle to me. I had a library card. I checked the book out, took it to my room, climbed into my bed and read it, and I knew long before I had finished that here was a man who had evolved a distinct way of writing. The book was Ask the Dust and the author was John Fante.”
Fante was born into a poor, working-class Italian immigrant family in Denver, Colorado, in 1909. The relentless poverty of his childhood, and the family background of a hard-drinking father and devout Catholic mother, were to influence his writing, in particular his autobiographical alter ego, Arturo Bandini. The young Fante was bookish and smart, and enrolled at the University of Colorado, but he dropped out to concentrate on writing. His first success came with the publication of a short story “Altar Boy” in H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury in 1932. From there on, Fante gave his life over to writing short stories, novels and screenplays. He worked for the Hollywood studios, collaborated with Orson Welles, and produced his classic novels Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938) and the book Bukowski described as the best novel ever written, Ask the Dust (1939). When not writing, Fante spent his time drinking and gambling, taking a similar route to the one Bukowski would follow years later.
A Sad Flower in the Sand (2001) was the first major documentary made on John Fante “the renegade author whose highly autobiographical novels illustrate his deep-rooted love of Los Angeles and his struggles working through poverty and prejudice.” Hailed as “an absorbing, film noir portrait,” this film explores Fante’s life, his influences, and his struggle to have his brilliant literary talents recognized. The documentary includes interviews with writer and director Robert Towne, publisher John Martin, biographer Stephen Cooper, and Fante’s wife Joyce and sons, Jim and Dan.