A Manual for Cleaning Women
Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

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2015 California Book Award for Fiction
2015 New York Times Top Ten Books
2015 Kirkus Prize Finalist

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Lucia Berlin

A Manual for Cleaning Women | Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Edited by Stephen Emerson | Foreword by Lydia Davis

A Manual for Cleaning Women compiles the best work of the legendary short-story writer Lucia Berlin. With the wit of Lorrie Moore, the grit of Raymond Carver, and a blend of humor and melancholy all her own, Berlin crafts miracles from the everyday, uncovering moments of grace in the cafeterias and Laundromats of the American Southwest, in the homes of the Bay Area upper class, among switchboard operators and struggling mothers, hitchhikers and bad Christians.

Lovers of the short story will revel in this remarkable collection from a master of the form and wonder how they’d ever overlooked her in the first place.
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The Work

Lucia Berlin (1936-2004, pronunciation: Lu-see-a) published 77 short stories during her lifetime. Most, but not all, were collected in three volumes from Black Sparrow Press: Homesick (1991), So Long (1993), and Where I Live Now (1999). These gathered from previous collections of 1980, 1984, and 1987, and presented newer work.

Early publication commenced when she was twenty-four, in Saul Bellow's journal The Noble Savage and in The New Strand. Later stories appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, New American Writing, and countless smaller magazines. Homesick won an American Book Award.

Berlin worked brilliantly but sporadically throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and most of the 1980s. By the late '80s, her four sons were grown and she had overcome a lifelong problem with alcoholism (her accounts of its horrors, its drunk tanks and DTs and occasional hilarity, occupy a particular corner of her work). Thereafter she remained productive up to the time of her early death.

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The Life

Berlin was born Lucia Brown 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.

In 1941, Berlin's father went off to the war, and her mother moved Lucia and her younger sister to El Paso, where their grandfather was a prominent, but besotted, dentist.

Soon after the war, Berlin's father moved the family to Santiago, Chile, and she embarked on what would become 25 years' worth of a rather flamboyant existence. In Santiago, she attended cotillions and balls, had her first cigarette lit by Prince Ali Khan, finished school, and served as the default hostess for the father's society gatherings. Most evenings, her mother retired early with a bottle.

By the age of 10, Lucia had scoliosis, a painful spinal condition that became lifelong and often necessitated a steel brace.

In 1955 she enrolled at the University of New Mexico. By now fluent in Spanish, she studied with the novelist Ramon Sender. 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 the poet Edward Dorn, a key figure in her life. She also met Dorn's teacher from Black Mountain College, the writer Robert Creeley, and two of his Harvard classmates, Race Newton and Buddy Berlin, both jazz musicians. And she began to write.

Newton, a pianist, married Berlin in 1958. (Her earliest stories appeared under the name Lucia Newton.) The next year, they and the children moved to a loft in New York. Race worked steadily and the couple became friends with their neighbors Denise Levertov and Mitchell Goodman, as well as other poets and artists including John Altoon, Diane diPrima, and Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones).

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. She spent much of 1991 and 1992 in Mexico City, where her sister was dying of cancer. Her mother had died in 1986, a probable suicide. 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 in just her second year, won the university's award for teaching excellence.

During the Boulder years she thrived in a close community that included Dorn and wife Jennie, Anselm Hollo, and her old pal Bobbie Louise Hawkins. The poet Kenward Elmslie became, like the prose writer Stephen Emerson, a fast friend.

In 2001, in failing health, she moved to Southern California to be near her sons. She passed away in 2004 in Marina del Rey.

— Stephen Emerson

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Recent reviews

Spiked, October 2, 2015
"These are short stories at their finest; intense, momentary and unforgettable." — Ella Whelan
link to review

The Guardian, September 30, 2015
"On the evidence of this wonderful collection, she had no need to worry: she missed nothing." — Catherine O'Flynn
link to review

Dublin Inquirer, September 22, 2015
"Berlin's stories are full of happenings and full of stasis, and they are, undoubtedly, the real deal. As with all definition-evading wonders, when you know, you know." — Elske Rahill
link to review

The Independent, September 22, 2015
"I believe the hype is justified … should reward readers who return to it for months, years, even decades. … Berlin's stories offer few answers, and no easy routes to redemption, but empathy pulses." — Max Liu
link to review

Electric Lit, September 21, 2015
"This was a brilliant woman. Her work transcends funny and shows us the absurd." — Kelly Luce
link to review

The Independent, September 5, 2015
"Now her brilliance is being recognised with this selection of 43 stories – more than half her life's work – which should by all rights see her as lauded as Jean Rhys or Raymond Carver." — John Self
link to review

The New York Times/Women In The World, September 1, 2015
"Lucia Berlin spent her career in obscurity. Now, she is being hailed as a literary genius" — Brigit Katz
link to review

The National Book Review, August 2015
"Lucia Berlin’s stories will be read, anthologized and celebrated in a way that they never were when the author was alive. Popular success can be fickle, and there is no trace of bitterness in these stories – only a brilliant mind grappling with the world around her." — Elizabeth Taylor
link to review

Chicago Tribune, August 2015
"It's as if Berlin had looked around and seen an empty space in fiction that no one else had noticed, so she decided to fill it with as much life as it could hold — and it turned out it could hold all of it. " — Michael Robbins
link to review

The Washington Post, August 26, 2015
"Berlin’s beautiful, rangy prose builds into unpredictable shapes that speak of the sprawling rural and urban western and South American landscapes that fueled her imagination. Those not lucky enough to have yet encountered the writing of Lucia Berlin are in for some high-grade pleasure when they make first contact." — Laird Hunt
link to review

Fresh Air, NPR, August 24, 2015
"This collection aims to bring Berlin the recognition she never enjoyed in her own rocky lifetime." — Maureen Corrigan
link to review

Zyzzyva, August 20, 2015
"Essential reading… a sterling reminder of the distinct pleasures the short story can offer and a fitting testament to one of the 20th century’s greatest practitioners of the form. " — Zack Ravas
link to review

The Boston Globe, August 20, 2015
"Berlin is a master of evocative phrases that conjure the sensory world." – Nick Romeo
link to review

The New York Times, August 18, 2015
"Ms. Berlin's stories make you marvel at the contingencies of our existence. She is the real deal. Her stories swoop low over towns and moods and minds." — Dwight Garner
link to review

The New York Times, August 16, 2015
"She put much of her roving, rowdy life onto the page in vivid stories that garnered the respect of a modest audience and now could be on the verge of making her posthumously famous." — John Williams
link to review

Entertainment Weekly, August 2015
"…so bright and fierce and full of wild color that you'll want to turn each one over just to see how she does it. And then go back and read them all again." — Leah Greenblatt
link to review

Time Magazine, August 24, 2015
"These stories illuminate a gritty world where pink-collar workers seek illegal abortions, endure unwanted caresses from strange men and scavenge for pennies to nurse their addictions …Infused with Berlin's caustic humor and a sense of self-discovery …the most touching stories have fun with the foreboding." — Eliana Dockterman

Newsday, August 13, 2015
"Just go get the book and start reading them for yourself." — Marion Wink
link to review

New Republic August 13, 2015
"What this writing affirms is the beautiful, broken human body as well as Berlin's rightful place in the canon of American short fiction." — Maggie Doherty
link to review

iBooks: 20 Best Books of August, August 2015
"We were floored by A Manual for Cleaning Women, a collection of biographical fiction by Lucia Berlin, an American writer who should be way more famous than she is."

Booklist, August 2015
"Begin reading a Berlin short story and you know immediately that you are in the presence of a unique and searing literary force. An essential collection of jazzy, jolting, incisive, wryly funny, and keenly compassionate, virtuoso tales." — Donna Seaman
link to review

Town & Country, August 2015
"These starkly original tales transport readers to a shadowier side of life with equal parts comedy, wit and melancholy."

Nylon, August 2015
"Lucia Berlin has long been overlooked as one of America's best short story writers, and it only takes readers the first couple of pages to recognize that . . . Reminiscent of Raymond Carver with a dash of survivor's humor, which makes even the bleakest tales thoroughly enjoyable." — Joseph Errico

Elle, August 2015
"Lucia Berlin's electrifying posthumous collection A Manual for Cleaning Women is a miracle of storytelling economy, showcasing this largely unheard-of writer's genius for streetwise erudition and sudden, soul-baring epiphanies." — Lisa Shea
link to review

Vogue, August 2015
"…a singular if unsung American voice."

Marie Claire, August 2015
"A writer's writer whose posthumous, highly semiautobiographical collection will catapult her into a household name. Women who behave badly oscillate beautifully between funny ha-ha and funny-sad in these perfectly clipped, nuanced stories." — Steph Opitz

W, August 2015
"A collection of wry, riveting stories." — Marnie Hanel

Book Riot, July 31, 2015
"What a gem it is… gritty stories of the ordinary, the downtrodden, the struggling, that are made beautiful through her amazing writing. You'll soon be hearing about this one everywhere." — Liberty Hardy

Kirkus Reviews, July 2015.
"A posthumous collection of stories, almost uniformly narrated by hard-living women, that makes a case for the author as a major talent. A testament to a writer whose explorations of society's rougher corners deserve wider attention."
link to review

Publisher's Weekly, June 2015.
“Berlin’s offbeat humor, get-on-with-it realism, and ability to layer details that echo across stories and decades give her book a tremendous staying power.”
link to review

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Various merchandise available at Society6.

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Foreign Editions

So far, 23 foreign editions of A Manual for Cleaning Women are in the works.

Lebowski Publishers (The Netherlands) were the first to come out with their version Handleiding voor poetsvrouwen in April of 2015. lebowski website

The U.K. edition from Picador came out on 10 September 2015. picador website

Also out now: Catalan (L'Altra Editoral), Danish (Gyldendal Dansk), German (Arche), Italian (Bollati Boringhieri), Norwegian (Forlaget Oktober), Spanish (Alfaguara), Portuguese (Companhia das Letras, Editora Objectiva) and Swedish (Natur och Kultur)

Coming Soon: Complex Chinese (Unitas Publishing), Simplified Chinese (ThinKingdom Media Group), Croatian (Ocean More), Czech (Argo), French (Editions Bernard Grasset), Hungarian (Jelenkor), Japanese (Kodansha), Romanian (Editura Art), Slovak (Inaque.sk), Russian (Corpus), Serbian (Strik Publishing), Slovak (Inaque.sk) and Turkish (Encore Kitap)


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