the short story project

Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin, an American author, wrote 77 short stories in her lifetime, which she published sporadically throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and most of the 1980s. Berlin was born in Alaska in 1936. Her father was a mining engineer and her earliest years were spent in the mining camps and towns of Idaho, Kentucky, and Montana. Soon after the war, Berlin’s father moved the family to Santiago, Chile. In Santiago, she attended balls and served as the default hostess for the father’s society gatherings after her mother retired early with a bottle. In 1955 she enrolled at the University of New Mexico. She soon married and had two sons. By the birth of the second, her sculptor husband was gone. Berlin completed her degree and, still in Albuquerque, met Race Newton and Buddy Berlin, both jazz musicians. And she began to write. Newton, a pianist, married Berlin in 1958. The following year, they and the children moved to a loft in New York. In 1961, Berlin and her sons left Newton and New York and traveled with their friend Buddy Berlin to Mexico, where he became her third husband. Buddy was charismatic and affluent, but he also proved to be an addict. During the years 1962-65, two more sons were born. By 1968, the Berlins were divorced and Lucia was working on a master’s degree at the University of New Mexico. She was employed as a substitute teacher. She never remarried. The years 1971-94 were spent in Berkeley and Oakland, California. Berlin worked as a high-school teacher, switchboard operator, hospital ward clerk, cleaning woman, and physician’s assistant, while writing, raising her four sons, drinking, and finally, prevailing over her alcoholism. In 1994, Edward Dorn brought Berlin to the University of Colorado, and she spent the next six years in Boulder as a visiting writer and, ultimately, associate professor. She became a remarkably popular and beloved teacher and won the university’s award for teaching excellence. In 2001, in failing health, she moved to Southern California to be near her sons. She passed away in 2004 in Marina del Rey. A selection of Berlin’s stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women, was published in August 2015 and quickly entered the New York Times bestsellers list. Berlin was described in reviews as a literary genius that is now earning her rightful place in the canon of American short fiction.


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