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The Buk Shop

Charles Bukowski Decorated and Signed Letter to Kirby Congdon Dated Feb. 13, 1964

Charles Bukowski Decorated and Signed Letter to Kirby Congdon Dated Feb. 13, 1964

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This is a great example of the elaborate letters Bukowski would send in the 1960s. The letter is hand-written with several of his classic drawings, including a self-portrait. This is one of the rarer examples where Bukowski used common multi-color markers to decorate the letter, which he bought from the local drug store. Even more rare is the use of cursive handwriting, which he used along the right gutter of the page. He signs the letter Buk.

The envelope has a post date of Feb. 13, 1964, and Bukowski has added his usual AIR MAIL addition, this one in color. It is addressed from Bukowski’s 1623 N. Mariposa Ave. apartment where he lived from 1958 to 1964, before moving to his famous Delongpre Avenue address.

Bukowski did not keep carbons or copies of anything he wrote during these years, so this is the one and only copy of the letter.

Bukowski and Kirby Congdon shared a brief, but meaningful correspondence in the mid-1960s and was an interesting literary character for the time.

Congdon was drafted at age 19 and served with valor as an Army sharpshooter in Europe during WWII. After the war, he attended Columbia University in New York on the GI Bill and became part of the Beat poetry scene. There he gained notoriety as both a writer and indie publisher as part of the “Mimeograph Revolution.”

According to his obituary:

“Kirby came of age as a gay man in late 1940s and early 1950s New York, when homosexual activity was still illegal. In his diaries from that time he redacted the surnames of acquaintances and sexual partners, so that in the event of theft or loss, they would not be of use to authorities…”

“Stunningly handsome, a motorcycle enthusiast and leather fetishist, Kirby was a flamboyant and fearless gay man during a time when homosexual activity was still illegal and most of his beatnik compatriots opted to seek refuge in tweedy intellectualism and academia.”

Congdon would later be published by the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor, but he came to know Bukowski as publisher of Interim Books in New York. A letter Bukowski wrote to Congdon would appear in Interim’s Magazine 3, published in 1966. A copy of that scarce issue is included with the letter.

Although the correspondence was brief, Congdon appeared to have an endearing influence on Bukowski. In an October 25, 1965, letter to fellow New Yorker, Tom McNamara, Bukowski shared his thoughts on Congdon:

“… have you ever met Kirby Congdon? He seems bright enough to set torches to the world. Almost seemingly classical. Yet lived, and learned, and not to be bullshitted. I understand he is going to Key West or somewhere. There are so many people I’d like to get drunk with, not so much as to talk myself, but to see them sitting in chairs and talking…”

Indeed, Congdon did go to Key West, which years later would name him as its first poet laureate.

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