culture | 24 november 2017
atlas literary journal offers a space for critical discussion about the health care system and its users. here, Founder Helen ker speaks with collaborator Lily West on the formation of Atlas.
interview & photographs: lily west
Atlas is a print journal supporting greater critical thought and creativity in medicine. Founded by young doctor in training, Helen Ker, Atlas encourages doctors, writers and patients to share in their experiences of medicine and the human body outside of the clinic.
Lily: What inspired you to start Atlas?
Helen: There are lots of interesting non-medical aspects of medicine that I wanted people to talk more about. There are so many weird things that the body does that no one can really explain, like how some newborn babies smell like nutmeg, and how humans respond to pain in different ways. But also other aspects that we don’t often get a chance to talk about like how emotionally challenging it can be to see so many people hurt and scared.
Medicine and literature seem like two pretty different areas, how do the two fit together?
I think the two fit really naturally together because you continuously hear about different people’s stories in the hospital, and when illness is involved they are usually pretty interesting. Some people also say that learning medicine is almost like learning a new language, because we learn so many new words and the way we speak about things changes.
What does the word Atlas mean?
Atlas means ‘to bear a great weight’ in Greek and Latin, and it’s also the first vertebra in the spine that sits right under the skull, I think it was named atlas because it carries the weight of the head. There are so many other metaphors like that engrained in medical language.
You’ve independently managed this project, what’s been the biggest challenge in producing Atlas so far?
I think it’s always tricky self-publishing and then having to manage the business side of things when that’s not at all how I naturally operate, but if it’s taught me anything it’s that New Zealand is such a receptive place to do it in.
So you’ve made two issues so far, what kind of writing has been published in it?
A lot of essays about mental health, gender, grief, Maori health, and also beautiful poetry and prose about all kinds of different things - hypochondria, heart transplants, Crohn’s disease, cadavers, rehab.
"Atlas means ‘to bear a great weight’ in Greek and Latin, and it’s also the first vertebra in the spine that sits right under the skull, I think it was named atlas because it carries the weight of the head."
What are your next steps forward?
A third issue. I also want to encourage more people to interview academics/doctors/anyone that they are inspired by and submit interviews because I think it’s a really easy way to share knowledge and ask interesting questions.
Atlas journal is a non-profit project made possible through the Jacob Beck Jaffurs Scholarship, Creative New Zealand, and the NZMSA Student Innovation Fund. All funds generated through the selling of the publication go directly back into the cost of printing the next edition.
Unity Books, 19 High Street, Auckland CBD
The Women's Bookstore, 105 Ponsonby Road
Parsons Bookshop, 26 Wellesley Street East, Auckland CBD
Time Out Bookstore, 432 Mt Eden Road, Mt Eden
Unity Books, 57 Willis St, Wellington CBD
Vic Books, Easterfield Building, 1 Kelburn Parade
Lily West: @lilypariswest
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