Brow Beat

An Exclusive Interview With Fante Bukowski, Literary Enfant Terrible

A cartoon of the fictional writer Fante Bukowski.
Fante Bukowski considering a crucial word choice. Noah Van Sciver

For years, the writer Fante Bukowski has stalked the literary scenes of Denver and Columbus, Ohio. Haunting open-mic nights, cursing audiences with his terrible poetry, drunkenly resenting the hacks and idiots whose writing graces the bestseller lists—Bukoswki is the ne plus ultra of mediocre literary white malehood, Guy in Your MFA if he never got an MFA but did self-publish a chapbook of poetry about his dad.

Many believe Fante Bukoswski is a fictional character, the creation of cartoonist Noah Van Sciver, who’s been chronicling his career for years in several Eisner-nominated comics. But some of us understand that in his sweaty desperation, his hapless thirst for fame (and beer), his talentlessness, Fante Bukowski transcends fiction. He is in all writers. Well, maybe not in you, but definitely in me.

I asked Fantagraphics Books, publishers of the handsome new hardcover The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski, for an exclusive interview with the reclusive scribe. Much to my surprise, they agreed.

Dan Kois: The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski tells the story of your early career in Denver and Columbus, battling to write the books that would one day make you famous. Is it painful to look back on those years of struggle?

"The struggle rages on, Dan. Yes I have a big book out, yes it's heavier than any of my enemy's books, and yet my father  hasn't said a word about it. And I know he got a copy because I tracked the package to his door on the UPS site."

Your enemy? Who is that? Are there writers out there whose work stands in stark opposition to your own?

There are an elite group of writers in a secret club, Dan. The gatekeepers.  They know who they are...It rhymes with "Okrah's Ook Club."

Is it these writers’ popularity that makes them your enemies? To put it another way, do you feel that writers who achieve commercial success are truly making art?

Nothing that’s popular can be Art. It can only be a product. All popular writers are only producing product. And since most people stay away from me and my writing it proves that I’m the more real Artist. And not everyone can handle my Art. Because it makes them question themselves probably.

Fante, you took your nom de plume from Charles Bukowski. What did you see in his books that made you adopt his name?

Charles Bukowski was the writer of the downtrodden. To really appreciate him you’d have to have trodden down to the liquor store on an ankle you have no memory of spraining! What can I say, I’ve been chosen to carry the torch!

I’ve also noticed that for quite some time you wore a bandana wrapped around your head. Are you a David Foster Wallace fan? His work seems much more … uh … cerebral than yours.

I’m a very big admirer of “DFW.”  In fact I’ve read some of Infinite Jest several times.

Before reading The Collected Works of Fante Bukowski, I didn’t know about your friendship with the bestselling novelist Audrey Catron. Are you and Ms. Catron still in touch?

Yes, well.... Ms. Catron may or may not have made a few calls to help my new collection find a publisher... Let’s just say that her father happens to be one of the founders of the publisher....

Since you first made a name for yourself with your photocopied zine 6 Poems, the literary world has changed a lot. In an industry that’s trying to embrace diversity, inclusivity, and marginalized voices, is there room for a white guy with a beard writing about his withholding father?

I hope so because I’ve already spent my advance money!

That seems a bit glib, Fante. Do you feel your writing is connecting to people? Do fans come to your readings? What do those fans most appreciate about your work?

My fans like my strength of character!  My writing is like a message in a bottle, Dan. I write it and throw it out into that sea of mediocrity, and I know that the right people are finding it.... but they all happen to be very shy people I assume.

Where are you sheltering in place during this pandemic? What is life like for Fante Bukowski under quarantine?

I’m prepared for this quarantine to last at least another week..anymore than that and I’ll really have to find some more olives out there...

Fante—are you drunk for this exclusive interview? That seems really inappropriate. What would your publisher say?

That's it! This interview is over!

This interview has not been edited or condensed for clarity.