Spurred by a reader’s letter, Senior Fiction Editor Ronna Wineberg takes on this question in her forward to the Fall 2010 issue of Bellevue Literary Review:
Recently, a reader wrote us a letter and objected to a story we had published. She felt on of the characters in the story was unfairly dismissive of nurses. Her letter caused us to think about the BLR‘s goals. What can a reader expect from creative work about health, healing, and illness published in a literary journal?
Literary work about these themes differs from scholarly work, of course. Articles in medical journals must be fair, based on fact or rigorous research. A personal essay that appears in the BLR is grounded in fact as well, although the writer often expresses an opinion. But a short story and sometimes a poem create a fictional world. What does fiction promise us? How does the world of a story differ from a creative essay or scholarly article?
All readers bring their own experience to a work of literature. The reader who wrote to us understood the objective reality of the medical world and the importance of a strong partnership between doctors and nurses. But fiction does not always reflect reality. A character can think what he or she wants. A short story allows a reader to enter another person’s mind, to be privy to thoughts that might not otherwise be expressed.
Fiction doesn’t promise us a measured view of life or even a fair view, and it doesn’t always present a flattering portrait of people or a profession. A short story provides the reader with the vision of one author and the perceptions of the characters in that story. Readers, like our letter writer, may be offended by a story or feel that a character is insensitive. However, this is the beauty of fiction: it allows the reader to live another life, experience a new perspective, journey into unfamiliar worlds.