Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Lucia Berlin

About a year ago one of the most important people in my life died, and I didn't even know it. Lucia Berlin was my professor at University of Colorado. I lost contact with her after I got into Sarah Lawrence College for two reasons 1.) one she moved to San Francisco and stopped using her email and 2.) she was slightly miffed with me because in the midst of her busy move I made her put together 20 letters of recommendations for my bombardment campaign of MFA programs.

I always meant to try to get a hold of her. She disappeared almost completely from the net. There was one mention of her reading at San Francisco State University, and I thought maybe I should have got ahold of the students there and try and find her. And this weekend I decided to google her to see if there was any news. And I found the news.

It is not surprising. I took two creative writing classes with her in 96 and 97, and even back then she was very ill. One of her lungs was collapsed, she was on oxygen, and she just didn't seem well. She was in constant pain, I know.

But she was just an amazing, beautiful person. She was the perfect workshop teacher, especially for undergraduates. She always discovered something to love in anybody's writing. And she would celebrate it. She was hilarious and sharp and witty. And she loved all fiction, new and old. She was one of the people who really opened my eyes to the beauty of fiction. How valid this pursuit of ours is. Some of the things she said have stayed with me, and given me strength in the harder moments. Luckily I had kept in touch with her for a couple years out of school. She recommended things for me to read, and she kept encouraging me to write.

Indeed, she was a fan of my work. She had nothing but good things to say about my stories. I still have her notes of praise, and if I am in an especially depressed situation I can go to those notes and remember what she had said about me and my possibilities.

As I said, it was not surprising to see that she's gone. It is somewhat of a relief, because she was in a great deal of physical pain. But she was a truly magnificent person; and if I ever end up achieving anything, it will be partly her encouragement. I told her that I would dedicate a book to her. She didn't say that was important, only that I keep writing.

Lucia only wrote short stories, and they are very good. Almost every story she wrote was based on her personal experiences. The prose is crystal sharp, etching pictures of loneliness and drifting darknesses of the lives of New Mexicans and New Yorkers and other people just surviving. Definitely in the Carver/Chekhov vein. Her most famous story is In the Laundromat.

1 comment:

nanana said...

May she live in your heart and inspire you to go on, in spite of pain and hardship. Beauty comes in strange packages and the will to be is strong. I am sorry you lost your friend, sorry I never got to meet her, but happy that she touched your life, and that a part of her lives on in you.