is a podcast of stories and “answer songs,” featuring performances by Roxane Gay, David Gilmour, Susan Orlean, Joyce Carol Oates and Amanda Shires. You can hear an exclusive preview of next week’s episode featuring Lucia Berlin (read by Elizabeth Geoghegan) and Rebecca Rego only at Paste.
Author Lucia Berlin was ahead of her time. She wrote darkly realistic fiction decades before it became fashionable, and she died long before her short story collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women, became an international bestseller. In the forthcoming episode of SongWriter, Elizabeth Geoghegan, Berlin’s friend and former student, talks about her life and work.
“She wrote 77 short stories in her life, and nobody knew her name,” Elizabeth says. “And then in 2004 she dies, and all of her books are out of print.”
A Manual for Cleaning Women was released in 2015, and was quickly embraced by a wide audience. The collection was named Book of the Year in Italy, Spain and Columbia, and five of the stories are now being adapted into a film by Pedro Almodovar.
In next week’s episode Elizabeth reads “Mama,” an autobiographical story about a conversation between two daughters. The mother in the story—like Berlin’s own mother—has a wicked, dark sense of humor.
“Her mom was always trying to kill herself, and she would leave Lucia these terrible notes, and sign them ‘Bloody Mary,’” Elizabeth recalls.
Kentucky-based songwriter Rebecca Rego was so taken by A Manual for Cleaning Women that she wrote an entire album inspired by the stories. Rebecca told me that what she loves most about Berlin’s work is its relentless sense of artistic independence.
“Sometimes when people have a vision,” Rebecca says, “They’re seeing the future, and a lot of times that future takes a long time to catch up with their art.”
Ben Arthur is the creator and host of SongWriter. You can follow him @MyHeart and hear his newest song, “Mercy Redux.”