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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?
Your enemy? Who is that? Are there writers out there whose work stands in stark opposition to your own?
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?
Fante, you took your nom de plume from Charles Bukowski. What did you see in his books that made you adopt his name?
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.
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?
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?
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?
Where are you sheltering in place during this pandemic? What is life like for Fante Bukowski under quarantine?
Fante—are you drunk for this exclusive interview? That seems really inappropriate. What would your publisher say?
This interview has not been edited or condensed for clarity.