Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Ladies

24870_f

Detail of the Michael Myers linocut for the cover of the first edition of Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, published by the Zephyrus Image in 1977.

A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, published in 1977, is Lucia Berlin’s debut as a writer, preceding the publication of Angel’s Laundromat by four years. The book came about after Berlin sent the manuscript – originally entitled “Suicide Note, A Manual” to Ed Dorn. Her letter, which is quoted in Johnston, mentions scathing rejection letters, and concludes “P.S. 42 days sober Think I’m going to make it. Hard to write without Jim Beam, on the other hand I can read what I wrote the next day.” [Johnston, p. 126].

It is fortunate, perhaps that the story was rejected elsewhere, for the book that, Holbrook Teter, Michael Myers and Dorn created a striking book in which all the details of the publication resonate intimately with the text of the story, giving it the feel of a truly collaborative artists’ book. One of Myers linocuts painstakingly details the 14 bottles of sesame seeds found in the story.

24870_d

Linocut by Michael Myers showing 14 bottles of sesame seeds, from Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies

The most striking illustration in the book shows a linocut of a cleaning lady standing boldly on top of a stove, wiping Coke off of the ceiling; the model pictured was based on a neighbor of the ZI crew in Healdsburg.

24870

Linocut by Michael Myers of the narrator cleaning Coke stains from the ceiling. From Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies (1977)

Berlin was pleased with the result; in a letter to Teter quoted in Johnston, she writes “Manual is really beautiful. I’m, well, elated, never have had anything printed, (really) before. Thank you.” [Johnston, p. 126].

It would be another four years before Berlin’s work would be printed in book form again, and never as perfectly as it was here –  a fitting tribute to the work of perhaps the best short story writer of her time. Berlin’s work has finally come to a larger audience following the long overdue publication of her collected short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women by Farrar Straus and Giroux in 2015 (I don’t know why the title was changed for the collected, but I’m sure there is a story there – please get in touch if you know.) 

Berlin, Lucia. A Manual for Cleaning Ladies. Washington DC [Actually Healdsburg, CA]: National Endowment for the Domestic Arts / Zephyrus Image, 1977. First edition. 12mo, [20] pp, shand-sewn in wraps, letterpress printed. Illustrated with four linocuts by Michael Myers. Housed in the original envelope linocut printed in green, as issued. Inquire. 

24870_b

Original printed envelope for Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, with linocut by Michael Myers.

 

24870_a

 

24870_f