A Literary Review at Bellevue? Believe It

BLRBy Dinitia Smith
New York Times

“Just tell me a story,” Dr. Danielle Ofri admonishes her medical students and interns at morning rounds. To Dr. Ofri, an attending physician at Bellevue Hospital Center, a part-time writer and the editor in chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, every patient’s history is a mystery story, a narrative that unfolds full of surprises, exposing the vulnerability at the human core.

The review was founded two years ago by Dr. Ofri and Dr. Martin Blaser shortly after he became chairman of the department of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, with which Bellevue is affiliated. The two created the journal to ”touch upon relationships to the human body, illness, health and healing,” according to its mission statement, a broad canvas indeed.

Bellevue may be the only municipal hospital in the country to have a literary review. It has attracted well-known writers despite not paying its contributors. The review has published poems by Philip Levine, David Lehman and Sharon Olds, and this fall it is publishing its third issue, with poetry by Rick Moody, who is better known for his fiction. There is also a poem by Julia Alvarez called ”Bellevue,” which reads, ”My mother used to say that she’d end up/ at Bellevue if we didn’t all behave.”

Ms. Alvarez continues: ”Of course, she wanted to go to Bellevue/ where the world was safe, the grates familiar,/ the howling not unlike her stifled sobs.”

Few contributions are by doctors. One, by Robert Oldshue of Boston, is his first published short story, ”The Mona Lisa,” about a nursing home patient who is accidentally locked in an elevator overnight.

There is also an essay by Joan Kip, 84, on being widowed. ”Alongside his love for me is my own expansive love for him,” Ms. Kip writes, ”as we move in concert with one another across the illusion of separateness, embraced within a spiral of light, which has no beginning, no end.” Two pieces in the magazine are about ears. One, by Cortney Davis, a nurse practitioner, is a poem: ”Pearly, uninformed, it waits/ for the otoscope’s puff of air.” The other is an essay by Eric Jones, a freelance science editor, about having an earache as a child. Dr. Blaser said he helped start the review to improve the medical students’ writing. ”It became clear to me what poor writers most doctors are,” he said.

(read the full article in the New York Times).