Lucia Berlin

1936-2004

Lucia Berlin was an American short story writer. She had a small, devoted following, but did not reach a mass audience during her lifetime. She rose to sudden literary fame eleven years after her death, in August 2015, with Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s publication of a volume of selected stories, A Manual For Cleaning Women, edited by Stephen Emerson. It hit The New York Times bestseller list in its second week, and within a few weeks, had outsold all her previous books combined. The collection was ineligible for most of the year-end awards (either because she was deceased, or it was recollected material), but was named to a large number of year-end lists, including the New York Times Book Review’s “10 Best Books of 2015.” It was also a finalist for the Kirkus Prize.

Berlin was born in Juneau, AK, and spent her childhood on the move, following her father’s career as a mining engineer. The family lived in mining camps in Idaho, Montana and Arizona, and Chile, where Lucia spent most of her youth. As an adult, she lived in New Mexico, Mexico, north and south California and Colorado. 

Berlin began publishing relatively late in life, under the encouragement and sometimes tutelage of poet Ed Dorn. Her first small collection, Angels Laundromat, was published in 1981, but her published stories were written as early as 1960. Several of her stories appeared in magazines such as The Atlantic and Saul Bellow’s The Noble Savage. Berlin published six collections of short stories, but most of her work can be found in three later volumes from Black Sparrow Books: Homesick: New and Selected Stories (1990), So Long: Stories 1987-92(1993) and Where I Live Now: Stories 1993-98 (1999).

Berlin was never a bestseller, but was widely influential within the literary community. She has been compared to Raymond Carver and Richard Yates. Her one-page story “My Jockey”, consisting of five paragraphs, won the Jack London Short Prize for 1985. Berlin also won an American Book Award in 1991 for Homesick, and was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.