Foreword

 

Welcome to the Spring 2011 issue of the Bellevue Literary Review. We are pleased to bring you the winners of the annual BLR Literary Prizes. We offer our thanks to the Vilcek and Goldenberg families and to the Burns Archive for the opportunity to showcase so many remarkable writers. Of course, we are deeply indebted to our judges and reviewers.

This year’s Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry was judged by Marie Ponsot. The winner is Janet Tracy Landman, whose poem “Sinkhole” is a delicate meditation on grief. Honorable Mention goes to Cynthia Neely for her poem “Climacteric.”

The Burns Archive Prize for Nonfiction was judged by Jerome Groopman. “The Tag,” by Elizabeth Crowell, stood out “head and shoulders” for him. The essay is a harrowingly human story of parents facing the birth of a child with a life-threatening illness.

Andre Dubus III was the judge of this year’s Goldenberg Prize for Fiction. The winner, “But Now Am Found” by Patti Horvath, is a tender story—equal parts devotion and disillusionment—of a teenage boy in love with a girl who wears a brace for scoliosis.

 

The Honorable Mention for fiction goes to Jill Caputo. “Winston Speaks” is the vibrant story of Winston—severely disabled, mute—and how he navigates life from his wheelchair and with his aide upon whom he is dependent. When the editors sought to contact Jill about her story, we learned with sadness that she had recently passed away. Disabled by a stroke at the age of 11, Jill became a writer, completing her MFA at Florida State University. She was working at the university when her wheelchair was struck by a car as she crossed a street on August 10, 2010. She was 30 years old.

Much of the writing in the Bellevue Literary Review touches upon mortality and vulnerability. Writers often use fiction and poetry—“the great lies that tell the truth”—to mine the emotional depths of these issues. But sometimes the brutal facts of real life jolt us, and can make literature feel rather paltry.

In the waning weeks of August, through September and October, “Winston Speaks” was being passed from hand to hand, as reviewers and editors read, discussed, and debated this story, unaware that the author had been killed just five weeks after submitting it. The story was very much alive for all of us, eddying in our minds as it survived cut after cut of the hundreds of contest submissions. By the time we called to congratulate her, all her listed phone numbers and email addresses were inactive. When we finally pieced together what had happened, and then tracked down her family in Kansas, it felt as though we had lost a close friend.

We had never met Jill Caputo, but we’d experienced an intimate relationship with part of her, absorbed in the intricacies of her narrative voice, living with her story for months. “Winston Speaks” is very much alive, even though the author is not.

It is true that real-life tragedy can make artistic pursuits seem frivolous. There is a certain leap of faith and gulp of guilt that one registers after experiencing illness or adversity, and then reading a poem or writing a story. But literature has always offered succor to patients, families, and caregivers with an intensity that far supersedes the mere scratches of ink on the page. So perhaps it does makes sense, with some curious but compelling emotional logic, to engage literature at these painful moments.

Jill was just beginning her career as a writer, but she was able to use the medium of fiction to convey some of the most eye-opening truths. For those of us who’ve had the good fortune (some would say random luck) to have not experienced disability, Jill’s invented character and made-up story do a more faithful job of communicating the “facts” of disability than most textbooks. It is a gift that extends to the concentric rings of readers who will experience the story, and then pass it along to a friend or colleague or student.

It is with these thoughts that we dedicate this issue of the Bellevue Literary Review to Jill Caputo, and offer our thanks to her for graciously sharing her wisdom with us.

 

Danielle Ofri
Editor-in-Chief