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