There aren’t many literary magazines that I consistently love, issue in and issue out. I used to love STORY, but that wonderful journal was discontinued years ago now. I have liked certain issues of Other Voices, and sometimes Glimmer Train and Zyzzyva and Tin House, but the one litmag that I always enjoy, pretty much cover to cover, is the Bellevue Literary Review. It dubs itself “a journal of humanity and human experience,” but really what it is is medical literature, or more accurately, the literature of medicine. It is published out of New York’s famous Bellevue Hospital, and I love that, a wonderful literary magazine coming out of a hospital.
When I was in graduate school, one of the very best courses I took was called “Medicine & Literature,” with the brilliant professor Marilyn Chandler. We read literature of the plague, and literature about bodies and death and illness and loss. It was some of the most powerful and moving work I had ever read, and it made me want to read and write more of it. Maybe because my undergraduate degree and my first degree was in the health sciences, but I feel intimately comfortable with that language and that world. When I first decided to becoming a health professional, it was not so much because I was good at science (in fact, I was desperately bad at it) but because I really liked hearing peoples’ stories, stories about how their lives had changed or were changing, and how they were coping with unimaginable struggles.
I still find those stories really compelling. I once wrote a story and submitted it to Bellevue, and they took it, but not before editing it with the most meticulous care and attention I have ever had, since or before. Danielle Ofri, the editor, took my story through no less than a dozen fine-toothed revisions, and I was stunned at how carefully and thoughtfully she considered every sentence, every word choice. It was an amazing experience. Not only is this woman the chief of medicine, and the editor of this journal, she is also the mother of two, a dancer and a practicing internist who recently published her own book.
The most recent issue of BLR arrived in my mailbox yesterday. The issue’s theme is mental illness. The poems and essays and stories did not fail to move me. One of these days I hope I’ll have something else worthy of sending them.