This issue of Bellevue Literary Review goes to press just as the Covid pandemic rounds out its second full year. For BLR, this period has been one of upheaval, as for everyone. But there have been some unanticipated bright spots. The shift to virtual events, for example, has allowed us to diversify our offerings and create events that continue to live on. BLR’s website and YouTube channel feature our programs on poetry and Parkinson’s, how writing confronts racism, the life of Oliver Sacks, writing during the Covid pandemic plus our original film, “Reading the Body,” that intertwines dance, disability, and poetry.
On a less tangible, but no less significant note, the pandemic has reinvigorated our sense of purpose. Grappling with illness has become universal, or at least now universally acknowledged. The themes that BLR writers have mined for twenty years are now recognized as fundamental themes of the human experience.
In that light, we bring you our forty-second issue. This year marks the seventeenth year of the annual BLR Literary Prizes, which attracted a record number of writers. Our nonfiction judge, Michele Harper, chose “In My Head,” by Ava Aron as the winner of the Felice Buckvar Prize for Nonfiction. Aron’s writing pulsates with rhythm and electricity as she brings us inside the mind of a teenager navigating life with obsessive- compulsive disorder. Honorable Mention goes to “Casualty,” by Emily Carter, which traces her sister’s experience during a troubled North Carolina summer, one that follows her “like a stray dog.”
Amy Hempel was the judge for the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction and selected “Step-Down” as the winner. This gripping story, by Nitin K. Ahuja, follows a nurse during his overnight shift in the hospital’s step-down unit, “where the patients are all sick in a steady but uncertain way … waiting for the course of an illness to reveal itself.”
In Angie Sijun Lou’s Honorable Mention story, “Pale Unhappy Dog,” a young man races through the Chinese countryside on his motorcycle, worried that “his father’s kidney has already been claimed by somebody else,” that it’s “in another city, purifying the toxins from a stranger’s body.”
The John and Eileen Allman Prize for Poetry was judged by Crystal Valentine. Michael M. Weinstein’s stunning poem “Drought Pastoral” was the winner. “Open up, desert,” the narrator says, “and let me down into you / seven thousand feet — // where once the cage stops / shaking I can hear my lungs // breathe—.”
Honorable Mention was awarded to “Six Weeks Into Chemotherapy” by Laura Paul Watson. In this moving poem, the narrator yearns “[t]o be unseen, unprayed for, to be unhugged / in the grocery store and left alone // to select a melon.”
BLR is deeply grateful to the sponsors of our annual literary prizes— the Goldenberg family for fiction, the Buckvar family for nonfiction, and board members Lin Lombardi and Lesmah Fraser for poetry. We are so very appreciative of this year’s judges—Michele Harper, Amy Hempel, and Crystal Valentine—who took time from their busy schedules to lend their discerning eyes. A special thanks goes to our stalwart reviewers for helping us critically evaluate thousands of submissions. And we are of course indebted to the writers whose efforts and skill allow us to create a journal of such high caliber.
Lastly, we thank you, the readers, who have embraced BLR over the last twenty years. We hope you enjoy reading this first entrant into our third decade as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together. Stay tuned for our next issue, which will have a special—and hopefully prophetic—theme: “Recovery.”