Our History

3 doctors, 2 poets and 1 fiction writer

While the daily dramas of pneumonias, heart attacks, and cancers played out in real time down the hall of the Bellevue Hospital, the six of us in the conference room were discussing how these human stories might inspire a literary journal. We knew that a medical center could also be a natural locus of creativity. Hospitals are places where the human spirit is often at its most vulnerable. If we haven’t experienced illness ourselves, we have cared for sick children or ailing parents, or we’ve lived in fear of illness, or in denial of illness, or have obsessed over illness. Or we’ve nervously eyed the sinews of our bodies and minds as the calendar plugs relentlessly forward. It is within these planes of vulnerability that literature and the arts can have the most resonance.
BLR hung out its shingle in 2000 with a small classified ad in three writing magazines. When hundreds of manuscripts began pouring in, we realized that we had touched a nerve. Over these nearly two decades the journal has become a prominent voice in the world of narrative medicine and in the literary community. Given the aging of the population, the greater presence of illness in everyday life, and the intense political and economic focus on healthcare, health-related issues are part of the public discourse in an unprecedented manner. By bringing in the creative literary arts and a fresh set of voices from diverse backgrounds, BLR provides a unique contribution to this societal conversation.

A New Look

In an homage to our founding inspiration, BLR featured archival photos of Bellevue Hospital and its community on its covers, a stunning visual documentary of the oldest public hospital in the U.S.
In 2018, BLR underwent a complete redesign through a remarkable collaboration with students at the Parsons School of Design, to create a fresh, modern look.  The high-quality literature between the covers did not change, of course, but this appealing new design—which features the work of contemporary visual artists on our cover—helps integrate BLR into the larger world of arts and letters.

We Believe in our Writers

Since the journal’s debut in 2001, BLR has published work by such luminaries as Amy Hempel, Rick Moody, Ha Jin, Edward Hirsch, Naomi Shihab Nye, Cornelius Eady, Sharon Olds, Paul Harding, Abraham Verghese, and others, while also becoming a home for emerging authors, some of whom count the BLR as their first publication. We’ve published early work by Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams; The Recovering), who won our Goldenberg Prize for Fiction in 2008; Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You; Little Fires Everywhere), whose BLR story “Girls, At Play” won a Pushcart Prize; and Kali Fajardo-Anstine, whose debut story collection, Sabrina and Corina—containing her BLR story, “Remedies”—was published to great acclaim in 2019.
Short stories, poems, and essays first published in BLR have been reprinted in various prize anthologies, including The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, Best American Short Stories, Best American Science and Nature Writing, and others. Many more have been listed as notable honorees.
BLR  hosts public readings as well as a variety of events at the intersection of literature, arts, health, illness and healing. 

Praise & Recognition