John Fante 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 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.
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.
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.
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Until Spring, Bandini (1938), The Road to Los Angeles (chronologically, this is the first novel Fante wrote but it was unpublished until 1985), Ask the Dust (1939) and finally Dreams from Bunker Hill (1982), which was dictated to his wife, Joyce, towards the end of his life.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. 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.
Diabetes cost him his eyesight and led to the amputation of both legs. He died in 1983.