Foreword


Welcome to the thirtieth issue of the Bellevue Literary Review. In 2000, when we sat in Bellevue Hospital, creating this literary journal, the world seemed like a stable place. The third millennium had begun. Life felt relatively peaceful; violence and war occurred in countries far from us. We assumed this stability would extend for decades. The first batch of BLR submissions explored illness, death, the practice of medicine, and families, and were set mostly in the United States.

The world is fluid, though, and just as our first issue was going to press, the attacks of 9/11 took place. We now live in an era in which terrorism has, unfortunately, become part of our daily vocabulary. The Internet and the ease of travel of people and ideas have made us—for better or for worse—citizens of one global community. Medicine, too, has been transformed; we can sit at the computer and search for cures, or choose 5-star hospitals and the best doctors based on the ratings of strangers. The themes of the stories, poems, and essays that come to the BLR reflect the concerns of our changing world.

One of the pleasures of reading BLR submissions is that we learn what subjects demand a writer’s attention. Writing, after all, is a way to capture moments in time, ones that will never be duplicated again, events that actually happened or that occurred only in the writer’s imagination. Literature can provide comfort or clarity, entertain us, educate us, offer dissonance, or startle our emotions awake. A good piece of writing opens up new worlds to the reader.

In this issue of the BLR, the writers explore a range of emotions and also the concerns that exist in different parts of our global community. “The Foreign Cinema,” by Lauren Alwan, won the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction. This charming story invites the reader to travel from Istanbul to Los Angeles. The protagonist, who has been having an affair with her bookstore employer, learns about America and heartbreak from the movies, especially from her favorite film, Casablanca. “Are You Having Suicidal Thoughts?” by John Noonan—one of the Honorable Mention stories—captures the despair of depression with honesty and poignancy. The second Honorable Mention, “First Child, Second Place” by Marylin Warner, is set in rural Kansas. The eleven-year-old narrator, Della Lee Weems, relates the events that changed her family’s life, and she inserts wisdom into her tale: “A teacher once told my class that it is the capacity to hate that robs us of our innocence.”

Esther K. Willison’s “Askew,” the winner of the Felice Buckvar Prize for Nonfiction, is a devastatingly beautiful essay about a daughter’s transformation from a vibrant child into a troubled adult who commits suicide. “A Member of the Family” by Morgan Smith won the Honorable Mention. The author, a retired lawyer turned photographer, leads us inside a mental asylum in the Mexican desert near Juarez, where patients are treated in ways that may be more humane than in the United States.

“The Problem With Anatomical Thinking—” by Meridian Johnson won the Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry and is written with exquisite economy, reminding the reader of the corpse’s place in nature and the cycle of life. The Honorable Mention, “The Interview” by Kathryn Starbuck, playfully and insightfully reframes the author’s inner thoughts into an interview she is conducting with herself.

Susanna Nguy is the winner of the Daniel Liebowitz Prize for Student Writing, which is awarded annually to an NYU medical student. Her story, “The Lump,” imagines the perspective of a patient with mental illness who must simultaneously cope with a new physical illness.

We’re grateful to this year’s contest judges: Paul Harding for fiction, Mark Vonnegut for nonfiction, and Ada Limón for poetry. Our deepest thanks to the Goldenberg, Buckvar, Vilcek, and Oratz/Knapp families for sponsoring the BLR Literary Prizes, which discover and showcase great literature.

Other work included in this issue of the BLR also explores a spectrum of emotions and our global community. “The Vegetable Seller,” a striking story by Sonni Aun, takes us to Seoul, Korea where an accident in a local market has dramatic repercussions that stretch from the past to the present. In “Nothing Shaking” by Michael Caleb Tasker, a man attempts to reconcile with his estranged father, and their relationship creates unexpected tensions in the son’s marriage. “Canine Cardiology,” a nonfiction piece by Deborah Thompson, describes the experience of a woman who has lost her life partner to cancer and now must take care of her beloved, ailing dog.

The poetry selections give us fresh perspectives on both ordinary and extraordinary experiences. The poet Owen McLeod in “Adelia” writes: “People have tricks for falling asleep,” and he guides the reader on an insomniac’s journey toward sleep. “Ground Zero” by Gaetan Sgro unflinchingly explores terror in Sierra Leone, and “Reprieve” by Jeffrey Harrison describes the time during a remission of cancer: “Still, it seemed a miracle almost, this reprieve…” In “A Fall,” Molly Peacock navigates an injury in surprisingly wonderful ways: “My fall itself fell, rising up, both cliff and pit…”

We hope the pages of this issue capture the current moments in our history and also introduce new worlds. We’re grateful to you, our readers, for joining us on this journey and sharing our joy in the written word.


Ronna Wineberg
Senior Fiction Editor