John Fante made Charles Bukowski a writer and Charles Bukowski made John Fante famous.

Written by Cole Schafer

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A few articles back I called Howard Luck Gossage the greatest advertising man you’ve never heard of.

I don’t know if I’m subconsciously on the hunt for underdogs or just giving too much credit where credit isn’t due.

But, I’m about to give similar praise to John Fante, a predecessor to one of my favorite writers of all time, Charles Bukowski.

Who is John Fante?

John Fante was an indie writer that found some modest success in Los Angeles during The Great Depression.

In 1939, he wrote a brilliant book titled Ask The Dust that had a serious chance of positioning him as one of the era’s all-time greats.

Unfortunately, his publishing house was in the midst of getting sued by Adolf Hitler (yes, Adolf-fucking-Hitler) for the unauthorized publishing of Mein Kampf.

With marketing budgets axed, Fante’s book saw little to no promotion and got heavily overshadowed by blockbuster books like Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

It’s okay, though, because the right person found it.

While John Fante didn’t know it, his book was being devoured by a young Charles Bukowski, who would become so enamored with his prose that he’d later say…

“Fante was my God.”

In the introduction to Ask The Dust, Charles Bukowski would write viscerally about reading Fante for the first time…

“Then one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was. I stood for a moment, reading. Then like a man who had found gold in the city dump, I carried the book to a table. 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 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 humor and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity. The beginning of that book was a wild and enormous miracle to me.”

After Charles Bukowski’s prose gained worldwide love and recognition, he tracked down the badly underappreciated John Fante and worked with his longtime agent and publisher, John Martin, to get his books republished under their publishing house, Black Sparrow Press.

John Fante would die after losing both his eyes and legs to diabetes. But, in death, his work would go on to gain the cult following it deserved, because of a young writer his prose so heavily inspired.

There is a saying…

“Be careful how you treat people on your way up because you might meet them again on your way down.”

That feels relevant, today.

By Cole Schafer (but mostly Charles Bukowski and John Fante).

P.S. The Cultured Vulture wrote a lovely take on this duo, here.