He [Bukowski] is not an important figure in the history of American literature because I don't feel he really changed anything. However, he certainly serves as an inspiration to many.
Welcome to the newsgroup. You have an interesting background... and it usually takes awhile to see what works on this newsgroup.
This matter of Bukowski's importance. I know you probably mean well, but I'd say "important" to whom? Most professors in the colleges and universities who try to set the standards of taste for the rest of us? These aren't the people I hang out with nor mostly respect. Henry Miller is also not considered to be an important figure in the history of American literature by the press or the established educational institutions"”he's not normally taught; but other than Hemingway, who had a greater influence on American lit than Miller over the past 70 years? And lately, Bukowski no doubt outsells Miller. So I consider Bukowski a most important figure in American literature, not only because he sells, but for the reason that he's read for the sheer pleasure of it.
I would also add that this productive genius, Bukowski, wrote a greater volume of readable literature than even the great Walt Whitman, who incidentally one must usually get special permission to do special papers on because of his unconventional sexual proclivities (his bisexuality). There's no sense in upsetting the straight-laced students or teachers, is there?
It's just that there are a great deal of readers who are probably 50 to 100 years ahead of the second-rate culture that America has, including what comes out of its universities. In Europe, Bukowski is more respected as a quadruple threat: a genius in the art of the novel, the short story, poetry, and his letters.
The problem is that Bukowski makes it appear so easy to write... so natural... that even his best works are sometimes dismissed as mere "typing" by the incompetents who neither understand him or, worse, themselves. That's the whole point of his writing: that he let it come naturally. But that overall lack of struggle is why he is considered to be unimportant by some of these academic morons who seem to have nothing better to do than to destroy the spirit and wholeness of the writers they study, or these academicians try to superimpose some cockamamie theory on why the writer wrote what he did.
So I say Bukowski will continue to seep into the mainstream over the coming years until his deeply moving insights into life can no longer be denied, and others will be forced to admit to his importance. If an awkward mediocrity like, forgive me, John Berryman can be considered influential, important and make it into the American literature anthologies, there will be no way in hell to keep out or deny the singular importance of a certain Charles Bukowski.
And as far as Bukowski's short stories are concerned, the best place to start is with "The Most Beautiful Woman in Town." It's haunting and flooded with the light of both a tragic and romantic atmosphere. If I'd had this atmospheric story in any one of the anthologies I was forced to read in college, I might have had more respect for some of these over-educated apes known as professors.