Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante

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9780865475540: Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante

The first biography of one of the great outsiders of American literature.

In the first comprehensive biography of John Fante, one of the great lost souls of twentieth-century literature, Stephen Cooper untangles the enigma of an authentic American original. By turns savage and poetic, violent and full of love, such underground novels as The Road to Los Angeles; Ask the Dust; and Wait Until Spring, Bandini simultaneously reveal and disguise their author.

Born in 1909 to poor Italian American parents in Colorado, Fante ventured west in 1930 to become a writer. Eventually settling in Los Angeles' faded downtown area of Bunker Hill, Fante starved between menial Depression-era jobs while writing story after story about the world he knew-full of poverty, hatred, and the madness of love. His first stories were published by H. L. Mencken in the American Mercury, but Fante also made a career in Hollywood working with the likes of Orson Welles and Darryl F. Zanuck.

By the time of his death, though, he was nearly forgotten. Fortunately, readers such as Charles Bukowski began to recognize that Ask the Dust stands alongside the best work of Nathanael West and Sherwood Anderson. This exacting and vivid biography will help secure Fante's place in the American literary pantheon.

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Review:

Unfamiliar with the works of John Fante? Sadly, you're not alone. While his few novels received critical acclaim, they went out of print quickly, and for most of his career Fante relied on Hollywood screenwriting to support both his family and his habits. Stephen Cooper has done a terrific job of uncovering Fante's life here, and more than anything, his biography makes the reader want to turn back to the writer's books (Ask the Dust, Wait Until Spring, Bandini, The Road to Los Angeles, The Brotherhood of the Grape, among others--all currently in print, courtesy of Black Sparrow Press). With elegant prose and painstaking detail, Cooper reveals a tortured man who once ended a letter with this telling statement: "Writing is a great joy, but the profession of writing is horrible." Beginning with Fante's family history--immigration, menial labor, heavy drinking, and financial instability--and ending with a final 17-month hospitalization, the roller coaster that was his life is both fascinating and exhausting. Even while his screenplay Full of Life achieved critical accolades, Fante referred to himself as "that Hollywood whore, that stinking sell-out artist," and with every increase in his paycheck he seemed to fall further into bitterness. Throughout the pages that link Fante's professional and personal lives, we're shown a proud grandpa, an unrepentant gambler and heavy-drinking diabetic, and above all, a tremendously talented writer who was always his own worst critic. Would he appreciate being rescued from obscurity? Hard to say: as he wrote to his son in the early '60s, "Success is too vague a challenge. Maybe failure is even better; certainly it is more beautiful." --Jill Lightner

About the Author:

Stephen Cooper is the winner of a 1991 National Endowment for the Arts grant for his fiction, and editor of John Fante's last book, The Big Hunger: Stories 1932-1959. He is Professor of English and Film Studies at California State University, Long Beach, and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their two children.

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