Rocky Mountain News

Lucia Berlin, 68, acclaimed fiction writer

By John C. Ensslin, Rocky Mountain News
November 18, 2004

Lucia Berlin once wrote the following in a short story called Wait a Minute:

"Time stops when someone dies. Of course it stops for them, but for the mourners time runs amok. Death comes too soon. It forgets the tides, the days growing longer and shorter, the moon."

For the friends and family of Ms. Berlin, a critically acclaimed writer and former creative writing professor at the University of Colorado, time truly has run amok.

Ms. Berlin died at her home in Marina del Rey, Calif., on Friday, her birthday.

She was 68.

She had endured health problems most of her life. She suffered from scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. The condition eventually destroyed one of her lungs.

But what her friends remembered this week is how her physical problems never diminished her strong spirit and her perceptive writing.

"She never complained or blamed," said Jennifer Dorn, a Boulder writer and a longtime friend of Ms. Berlin. "She had this dark sense of humor, even when she was in so much pain."

Ms. Berlin was born in Juneau, Alaska, and grew up in Texas and Chile as her family followed the path of her father, a mining engineer.

Writing was her passion - especially short fiction.

"It was her entire life," said Danny Berlin, one of her four sons. "She was the kindest, most sincere woman."

Her stories were evocative of their setting, whether it was Berkeley, Calif., Albuquerque or Boulder.

Although her works were fiction, friends say she often drew upon stories from her own life.

Among her published works were Angels Laundromat (1981), Phantom Pain (1984) Safe and Sound (1988), Homesick (1990), So Long (1993) and Where I Live Now (1999).

Homesick won an American Book Award. Ms. Berlin was also a recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a winner of the Jack London Short Story Award.

"She was someone whom writers knew about, writers and people who read literature," said Boulder writer Bobbie Louise Hawkins.

But her topics were not obscure, she added. "Her topics were always about the human condition."

At the invitation of fellow writer Ed Dorn, Ms. Berlin began teaching creative writing at CU in August 1994 as an assistant professor of English.

In 1996, she was one of four CU professors honored with a Teaching Recognition Award from the Student Organization for Alumni Relations.

Health problems and a desire to live closer to her family led Ms. Berlin to relocate to California in November 2000, son Danny Berlin said.

She is also survived by sons Benjamin, Jeffrey and David Berlin.

Dorn said a memorial service in Boulder is planned for later this year, although a date has not been set.

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