The FBI kept its own notes on ‘dirty old man’ Charles Bukowski

The FBI had its own notes on “dirty old man” Charles Bukowski. The writer was investigated by the agency as a civil servant with ties to the underground press -- and for being a self-described “dirty old man.

Recently National Book Award-winning author William T. Vollmann went public with his FBI surveillance, writing about his experiences of both being watched and reading the report. (At one point, as Vollmann writes in this month’s Harpers, he was suspected of being the Unabomber.) Now the FBI has released files showing it kept tabs on hundreds of writers, including Bukowski.

As noted last week on Open Culture, more than 100 pages of the FBI’s 1968 file on Charles Bukowski have been scanned and published on It seems that the Feds had a hard time getting any dirt on the poet; some of the entries into his file primarily involve his neighbors admitting that they didn’t know much about the reserved but ribald postal worker who went on to write “Women,” and that he was a quiet man who seldom had visitors.

Bukowski was being investigated by the FBI for his involvement in the underground Los Angeles newspaper Open City. Bukowski had a recurring column called “Notes From a Dirty Old Man.” The tabloid was published weekly from 1967 to 1969.

In an interview with the FBI, Bukowski stated that by Feb. 8, 1968, he had contributed 41 articles to Open City. He also said that each column was an “intermixture of fiction and fact” and that the prose is “highly romanticized to give the story more juice.” One of the columns is included in the 1968 file. In it, Bukowski describes an inebriated woman releasing a bunch of pet birds, “5000 dollars worth of birds,” and then being beaten by her husband, who is also very drunk.

The FBI did not provide any analysis of either the political content nor literary merits of the story.



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