By DeWitt Henry, Literary Bookmarks Editor
Monthly link highlights to online resources, magazines, and author sites that seem informative and inspiring for working writers. Most are free. Suggestions are welcomed.
NYU School of Medicine Library: Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database
For writers/readers looking for leads to poetry, fiction, drama, film, and art concerning medical encounters and life passages, I recommend this literature database, which offers titles, annotations, and bibliographical information rather than complete texts.
“LitMed,” a collection of literature, fine art, visual art, and performing art notations, was begun in 1993 by NYU’s School of Medicine in order to promote “insight into the human condition” and “to develop and nurture the skills of observation, analysis, empathy, and self-reflection—skills that are essential for humane health care.”
Felice Aull, one of the founders, writes: “Currently the Database holds more than 2,500 annotations, primarily in literary genres, but also several hundred in art and film. It is searchable by keyword, genre, author, and several other categories as well as with an internal Google search engine that can search for any word or phrase (Free Text Search). There are extensive internal hyperlinks (cross-referencing) and links to external online texts, artworks, film trailers, author and artist home pages.”
The term “short story” yields 633 results, while “pediatric cancer ward” yields four, including Lorrie Moore’s classic, “People Like That Are the Only People Here.” “AIDS” yields 184 results, topped by Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors. Literate searchers can count on surprises: works they might otherwise have overlooked. Recent and suggested titles are highlighted on the LitMed Blog, while The Bellevue Review: A Journal of humanity and human experience, also sponsored by the School of Medicine, regularly publishes original poetry, fiction, and memoir.
Sesquiotica: Words, words, words
An infectious (in the best sense) blog and listserve created by Toronto-based drama and linguistics professor James Harbeck in 2000, Sesquiotica now claims some seventeen thousand followers. The name is coined to mean “three times as good as semiotics.” For Harbeck, “words are delicious and intoxicating. They do much more than just denote; they have appearance, sound, a feel in the mouth, and words they sound like and travel with.” Each of his posts—“word tasting notes”—playfully meditates on a given word. For instance, “IJkdijk” in a recent post. This is a Dutch word that catches his fancy. He likes the sound and imagines it might mean “I’m just kidding, dude, I’m just kidding,” while in fact it means “a facility in the Netherlands dedicated to testing dikes and specifying their best construction and maintenance, and designing sensors to warn of possible points of failure.” The fun is in analyzing its clues: IJk is from ijken, a Dutch verb meaning “calibrate,” and dijk means “dike.”
In any case, he welcomes “the flood of words from other languages.” In a previous post, responding to the eclipse, he muses about the word, “lunula,” which means “crescent,” even if it describes the sun as partially blocked by the passing moon. “I did get a little moon, yes, but the moon I got was what I didn’t see, and the lunula I saw was what was not the moon. It was the sun.” Seeing the same shape at the bottom of his fingernails, he proposes a haiku: “toenails of the sun / in the branches songs of birds / can’t chase them away.” Followers regularly respond with interesting comments to his posts.
He has a book of “salacious verse about English usage” for sale. His blogroll offers links to fifty-four kindred sites; and his archive of posts is organized as Recent, Top, and by Category (such as arts, BBC, editing, from the bookshelf, fun, word reviews, and more).
The Critical Flame
The Critical Flame is a well-designed, restive, and provocative bi-monthly journal of criticism, literary nonfiction, and interviews. It was founded in 2008 by Boston-based poet, translator, and essayist Daniel Evans Pritchard, appears bi-monthly, and among its initiatives has dedicated a full year’s issues (May 2014–April 2015) to women writers and writers of color, and then this past April offered a special issue on motherhood guest-edited by Mia You & Chloe Garcia Roberts (aka A. Bradstreet): “Our gathering here includes artists alongside the poets; long-time contributors and new voices; essays on anticipation, loss, physicality, language and the literary heroes we answer to and hold sacred,” they write.
Overall, Pritchard’s editorial outlook is distinctly millennial and backed by cultural studies, and his writers for the most part are well-credentialed and impassioned, if not widely known. Translations introduce global perspectives. Given a commitment “to encourage intelligent public discussion about literature and culture through long-form literary and critical essays,” sometimes the essays prove overlong and lightweight, but at their best—such as Patti Marxsen’s “This wave in the mind,” which artfully parallels the lived study of Virginia Woolf and To the Lighthouse with the author’s own life journey—they reveal a complex impetus, poetic density, and reach. Other standouts (for me) include Nicole DePolo’s review of Norman Mailer: A Double Life by J. Michael Lennon; an edgy conversation between Krysten Hill and Ruby Rose Fox; and “All That’s Left: The Art of Teresa Margolles” by Cynthia Cruz (featuring illustrations of Margolles’s paintings and installations, which have been touched or smeared by actual remains of murdered bodies). “When we are confronted with death or with the issue of Mexico, drugs, poverty, and violence, we flinch,” writes Cruz. “We react in empathy and understanding or else we turn away. In either case, we step into a semblance of knowing and then revert to the safety of death’s absence, proven by the representation of death before us.” At present, neither CF’s staff nor writers are paid.
Founded in 2009 by Seattle-based Mark Armstrong, Longreads is “dedicated to helping people find and share the best storytelling in the world.” Mike Dang serves as Editor-in-Chief, supported by a relatively large staff. Editors’ Picks, Exclusives, and Originals (selected posts of nonfiction and fiction over 1,500 words) are free for everyone. However, for $5 per month or $50 per year, members can make recommendations and help fund “exclusives…from hard-hitting original journalism to excerpts from new and classic books.” For every $1 a member gives, WordPress.com gives three. Members have funded “essays from writers like Anjali Enjeti and Riyan Fergins, on-the-ground reporting from journalists like Sam Riches and Alice Driver, and ambitious literary projects like Maria Bustillos’ ‘George Saunders-Anton Chekhov Humanity Kit.’” Previously published stories are welcomed for Editors’ Pick consideration. Among others, WTP contributing editor Richard Gilbert published “Why I Hate My Dog” here last year.
To submit, send the link to email@example.com. For stories not yet published online, submit using the #longreads tag on Twitter. “Quality writing and in-depth journalism can’t survive when there’s nobody around to support it,” they say in their appeal. “We work with freelance writers, book publishers and magazine publishers, and we pay for work that we believe adheres to the highest standards that you, our members, have when looking for something interesting to read.”
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