Barbara Sapienza

Author of novels The Laundress and Anchor Out. Barbara Sapienza is a retired clinical psychologist who practiced in San Francisco. She writes, paints, dances, practices taiji and meditation, and volunteers in a school program in Marin City. She lives in Sausalito with her husband and enjoys her granddaughters, Milla and Isa.

Barbara Sapienza, 2020

Barbara Sapienza

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Writers Voices - Caroline Kilbourn & Monica Hadley
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The Story

Twenty-six-year-old Lavinia is burdened by her unknown heritage–but her uncle Sal, who raised her in San Francisco, has always kept silent, refusing to reveal the devastating secret of her origin. And now, following the death of his wife, he’s left for Italy.


In the wake of her uncle’s departure, Lavinia has quit school. Now she works as a personal laundress to a diverse cast of San Francisco residents–people with stories as complicated as her own. As time progresses, through the sacred ritual of washing clothes–and with the help of a friend and her nurturing, flamenco dancing mother–Lavinia begins to recover memories of her past. Gradually, her gifts of receptivity multiply, and she communes with nature, finding messages from birds and the leaves of her garden’s fig tree. And when she recovers Raggedy, a beloved doll that accompanied her from Naples when she was four years old, she experiences a tangible connection to her own mother.


Even as Lavinia makes these discoveries, she is busy building new relationships–discovering healing dance with her lover, a barista in a North Beach coffee shop; learning to understand Time and forgiveness with an elderly client; and even getting to know her father, a man who has never been a part of her life. Poetic and poignant, The Laundress is a coming-of-age story for anyone who’s ever sought to understand where they came from in order to figure out who they’re meant to become.

The Story

Sixty-year-old Frances Pia lives alone on a thirty-foot sailboat anchored near Sausalito, where she communes with the fog, sea lions, cormorants, and two sailor friends, Otto and Russell. She performs random acts of public defacement—painting drainpipes, public restrooms, and murals on the sides of houses—which she believes are beautification projects, and struggles with bouts of depression and mania. Frankly, she’s a bit of a nutcase.

But Frances wasn’t always this way. She was once a Catholic nun with a sister, Anne, who loved her dearly. But then she slept with her brother-in-law, Greg—and ashamed and pregnant, she fled, leaving Anne, her art,

and her vocation behind. When she also lost her baby, Nicola, in a freak accident, she lost faith in God and became a keeper of sorrows.

Through a series of wacky adventures, including bouts with the cops and the sea, Frances opens her heart to love for the first time in years—and begins to really paint the town, redeeming herself with Anne and freeing herself from her guilt over Nicola’s death along the way.

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