CCPA Summer Series: Bellevue Literary Review

By Jess Libow ’16
Smart Family Internship Grant

I was lucky enough to spend my summer as an editorial intern at the Bellevue Literary Review in New York City. The BLR is a bi-annual literary journal devoted to publishing poetry and prose relating to illness, disability, healing, and the human condition. Published by NYU Langone Medical Center and affiliated with the Medical Humanities department, the BLR is housed in historic Bellevue Hospital.

I was drawn to the BLR for its unique focus on the relationships between illness/disability and literature. Classes I have taken in the Health Studies program as well as courses focused on disability studies taught me to think critically about the ethical and aesthetic aspects of representation in these contexts. I was excited to learn that the BLR regularly hires interns, and that because they have such a small staff, interns play a significant role in the journal’s operations.

There were three interns at the BLR this summer, and we had a wide range of responsibilities and opportunities. We completed typical intern tasks such as updating subscription databases and mailing out issues as well as more creative projects. Over the course of my summer at the BLR I put together e-newsletters, assisted with layout for an upcoming edition, developed study guides for past issues, was given the opportunity to write for NYU’s Literature, Arts, Medicine Database’s blog. My primary responsibility, and the project that was most unique to my internship at BLR, was reviewing manuscripts.

The BLR receives hundreds of submissions for each issue and rather than sending these directly to the section editors (for poetry, fiction, and non-fiction), they are filed into a database. Reviewers then have access to the database and the submitted manuscripts. After reading each submission, reviewers rank the piece on a scale of 1-6 and provide a brief summary of and/or comment about the work.

As an English major, I’m used to spending hours reading creative texts, but was surprised to find I needed to develop an entirely new skill set in order to be successful at the BLR. In English courses, I haven’t questioned whether or not the novel, essay, or poem I’m reading is “good” or “bad.” I’ve simply assumed the quality of each piece as a given and proceed to analyze the text. At the BLR, I had to develop a different kind of literary eye to scan for, among other things, coherent plot lines, adequately developed characters, and realistic dialogue. Writing comments on each piece, I had the opportunity to provide specific feedback about what areas of a promising piece might benefit from a little revision. Reading from an editorial, rather than critical perspective allowed me to engage more closely with the authors’ creative processes, an experience that was new to me.

Interning at a literary journal, I have learned how to be a different kind of reader and developed skills I hope to apply in the future. I’m very grateful to have received a Smart Family Internship Grant to support this experience.