John Fante


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John Fante (April 8, 1909 – May 8, 1983) was an American novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter. He is best known for his semi-autobiographical novel Ask the Dust (1939), about the life of Arturo Bandini, a struggling writer in Depression-era Los Angeles. It is widely considered the great Los Angeles novel and is one in a series of four, published between 1938 and 1985, that are now collectively called "The Bandini Quartet." Ask the Dust was adapted into a 2006 film starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek. 

Fante's published works while he lived included 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 screenwriting 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. Fante was born in Denver, Colorado, on April 8, 1909, to Nicola Fante from Torricella Peligna (Abruzzo) and Mary Capolungo, a devout Catholic of Lucanian descent who was born in Chicago, Illinois. 

Nicola Fante was a bricklayer and stonemason, who drank and gambled to excess, leaving the Fante family to experience bouts of poverty. Fante attended various Catholic schools, including Regis High School, before briefly enrolling at the University of Colorado. He dropped out of college in 1929 and “hitchhiked to Los Angeles at age 24” to focus on his writing. Fante and Joyce Smart met on January 30, 1937, and were married on July 31 of that same year in Reno, Nevada.

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. With Mencken's help, in 1938, Fante published his first novel, Wait Until Spring, Bandini. The following year, his best-known novel, the semi-autobiographical Ask the Dust, appeared. “Much of the book focuses on Main Street and Pershing Square” in downtown Los Angeles, the natural habitat of the “poor Los Angeles poet” who was the novel’s protagonist.

Bandini served as his alter ego in a total of four novels, often known as "The Bandini Quartet": Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938), The Road to Los Angeles (chronologically second in the saga, this is the first novel Fante wrote, but it was unpublished until 1985), Ask the Dust (1939) and finally Dreams from Bunker Hill (1982), which was dictated to his wife, Joyce, “from his hospital bed.” 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.

Starting in the 1950s, Fante made a living primarily as a screenwriter, building a lucrative career writing mostly unproduced screenplays. According to a local historian, “He wrote movie scripts with drinking partner William Faulkner in the 1940s and was still active in the studios in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Fante's screenwriting credits include the comedy-drama Full of Life (1957), based on his 1952 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. 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.

In the late 1970s, at the suggestion of novelist and poet Charles Bukowski, who had accidentally discovered Fante's work in the Los Angeles Public Library, Black Sparrow Press began to republish the (then out-of-print) works of Fante, creating a resurgence in his popularity.

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Ask the Dust