John Fante

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John Fante
Born (1909-04-08)April 8, 1909
Denver, Colorado
Died May 8, 1983(1983-05-08) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, screenwriter
Nationality American
Period 1936–82
Literary movement Dirty realism
Notable works Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938)
Ask the Dust (1939)
Full of Life (1952)

John Fante (April 8, 1909 – May 8, 1983) was an Italian-American novelist, short story writer and screenwriter. He is best known for his semi-autobiographical novel Ask the Dust (1939) about the life of a struggling writer, Arturo Bandini, in Depression-era Los Angeles. It is widely considered the great Los Angeles novel[1][2][3] and is one in a series of four novels, published between 1938 and 1985, that are now collectively called "The Bandini Quartet". A movie of the same name was made in 2006, starring Colin Farrell. Fante published five novels, one novella, and a short story collection. Additional works, including two novels, two novellas, and two short story collections, were published posthumously. His screen credits include, most notably, Full of Life (1956), based on his 1952 novel by that name, Jeanne Eagels (1957), and the 1962 films Walk on the Wild Side and The Reluctant Saint.

Personal life[edit]

Fante was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1909, to his father, Nicola Fante from Torricella Peligna (Abruzzo), and his mother, Mary Capolungo of Lucanian descent. He attended various Catholic schools in Boulder, Colorado, before briefly enrolling at the University of Colorado. He dropped out of college in 1929 and moved to Southern California to focus on his writing. He wrote about writing and the people and places where he lived and worked, which included Wilmington, Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, the Bunker Hill district of downtown Los Angeles, as well as various homes in Hollywood, Echo Park and Malibu.[4] His son Dan Fante was an author and playwright. Diabetes cost him his eyesight and led to the amputation of both legs. He died in 1983.[5]


After many unsuccessful attempts at publishing stories in the highly regarded literary magazine The American Mercury, his short story "Altar Boy" was accepted conditionally by the magazine's editor, H. L. Mencken; its acceptance was accompanied by a letter from Mencken that read: "Dear Mr. Fante, What do you have against a typewriter? If you transcribe this manuscript in type I'll be glad to buy it. Sincerely yours, H. L. Mencken."[citation needed]

By far, his most popular novel is the semi-autobiographical Ask the Dust, the third book in what is now referred to as "The Saga of Arturo Bandini" or "The Bandini Quartet". Bandini served as his alter ego in a total of four novels: Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938), The Road to Los Angeles (chronologically, this is the first novel Fante wrote but it was unpublished until 1985), Ask the Dust (1939) and finally Dreams from Bunker Hill (1982), which was dictated to his wife, Joyce, towards the end of his life. Fante's use of Bandini as his alter ego can be compared to Charles Bukowski's character, Henry Chinaski. Bukowski himself was heavily influenced by Fante.

Other novels include Full of Life (1952), The Brotherhood of the Grape (1977), and 1933 Was a Bad Year (1985; incomplete). Two novellas, My Dog Stupid and The Orgy, were published in 1986 under the title West of Rome. His short story collection, Dago Red, was originally published in 1940, and then republished with a few additional stories in 1985 under the title The Wine of Youth.

Recurring themes in Fante's work are poverty, Catholicism, family life, Italian-American identity, sports and the writing life. Ask the Dust has been referred to over the years as a monumental Southern California/Los Angeles novel by a host of reputable sources (e.g.: Carey McWilliams, Charles Bukowski and The Los Angeles Times Book Review). More than sixty years after it was published, Ask the Dust appeared for several weeks on the New York Times' Best Sellers List. Fante's clear voice, vivid characters, shoot-from-the-hip style, and painful, emotional honesty blended with humor and scrupulous self-criticism lends his books to wide appreciation. Most of his novels and stories take place either in Colorado or California. Many of his novels and short stories also feature or focus on fictional incarnations of Fante's father, Nick Fante, as a cantankerous wine tippling, cigar stub-smoking bricklayer.

Fante's screenwriting credits include the comedy-drama Full of Life (1957), based on his novel of the same name, which starred Judy Holliday and Richard Conte, and was nominated for Best Written American Comedy at the 1957 WGA Awards.[6] He also co-wrote Walk on the Wild Side (1962), which stars Jane Fonda in her second credited film role, based on the novel by Nelson Algren. His other screenplay credits include Dinky, Jeanne Eagels, My Man and I, The Reluctant Saint, Something for a Lonely Man and Six Loves. As Fante himself often admitted, most of what he wrote for the screen was simply hackwork intended to bring in a paycheck,[citation needed].

In the late 1970s, at the suggestion of novelist and poet Charles Bukowski,[7] Black Sparrow Press began to republish the (then out-of-print) works of Fante, creating a resurgence in his popularity. When Black Sparrow was reconfigured on its founder's retirement in 2002, publication of John Fante's works was taken over by HarperCollins under the Ecco imprint, but not before Black Sparrow Press could publish the last of Fante's uncollected stories in The Big Hunger (2000). Full of Life: The Biography of John Fante was published by Stephen Cooper also in 2000, followed by The Fante Reader in 2003. Also available are two collections of letters, Fante/Mencken: A Personal Correspondence (1989) and Selected Letters (1991).

Legacy and recognition[edit]

A view of John Fante Square in downtown Los Angeles

He is known to be one of the first writers to portray the tough times faced by many writers in L.A.. Robert Towne has called Ask the Dust the greatest novel ever written about Los Angeles.

His work and style has influenced similar authors such as Charles Bukowski, who stated in his introduction to Ask the Dust that "Fante was my god".[8] He was proclaimed by Time Out as one of America's "criminally neglected writers".[citation needed]

In 1987, Fante was posthumously awarded the PEN USA President's Award.[9]

On October 13, 2009, Los Angeles City Council member Jan Perry put forward a motion, seconded by Jose Huizar, that the intersection of Fifth Street and Grand Avenue be designated John Fante Square. The site is outside the Los Angeles Central Library frequented by the young Fante, and where Charles Bukowski discovered Ask The Dust. On April 8, 2010, the author's 101st birthday, the Fante Square sign was unveiled in a noon ceremony attended by Fante's family, fans and city officials. Fante Square is located near the old Bunker Hill neighborhood he wrote about, and where he also lived.[10]

Film and theater adaptations[edit]

Dominique Deruddere directed the movie version of Wait Until Spring, Bandini, which was released in 1989. In March 2006, Paramount Pictures released Ask the Dust, directed by Robert Towne and starring Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek and Donald Sutherland. In December 2006, a 2001 documentary film about Fante, entitled A Sad Flower in the Sand (directed by Jan Louter), aired on the PBS series Independent Lens.

On January 18, 2001, the play 1933 by Randal Myler and Brockman Seawell, based on the novel 1933 Was a Bad Year, premiered at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.


  • The Road to Los Angeles (1936, published posthumously in 1985)
  • Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938)
  • Ask the Dust (1939)
  • Dago Red (1940), short story collection
  • Full of Life (1952)
  • Bravo,Burro! (book, with Rudolph Borchert) (1970)
  • The Brotherhood of the Grape (1977)
  • Dreams from Bunker Hill (1982)
  • The Wine of Youth: Selected Stories (posthumously, 1985), Dago Red and short story collection
  • 1933 Was a Bad Year (post., 1985; incomplete)
  • West of Rome (post., 1986), two novellas
  • Fante/Mencken: John Fante & H. L. Mencken: A Personal Correspondence, 1932–1950 (post., 1989), letters
  • John Fante: Selected Letters, 1932–1981 (post., 1991), letters
  • Prologue to Ask the Dust (post,. 1990), letter
  • The Big Hunger: Stories, 1932–1959 (post., 2000), short story collection


  1. ^ Wright, D. (2015). NONCONFORMIST MUST-READS. The Booklist, 112(6), 26-27. Retrieved from
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Official John Fante website". Retrieved 2011-06-22. 
  5. ^ "JOHN FANTE, WRITER; DEPICTED CALIFORNIA IN DEPRESSION YEARS". The New York Times. May 13, 1983. Retrieved February 15, 2017. 
  6. ^ WGA Awards (Screen), 1957 at the Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ Gardaphe, Fred L. (2001), "John Fante (1909-1983)", in Gelfant, Blanche H., The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story, New York: Columbia University Press
  8. ^ Fante, J 1980, Ask The Dust, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Barbara. Introduction by Charles Bukowski.
  9. ^ PEN USA Awardees and Honorary Award Winners 1978-2005
  10. ^ "Naming of John Fante Square". Los Angeles Visionaries Association. Retrieved 2011-06-22. 

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