Celeste Lipkes, MD, MFA, came to Yale after medical school to be trained in psychiatry, and she brought a passion and talent for writing poetry that recently earned her recognition in a prestigious literary competition.
Lipkes’ first manuscript of poems, Radium Girl, was judged a semi-finalist for the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. Sponsored by BOA Editions, Ltd., an independent non-profit publisher of poetry and fiction, the contest generated more than 750 submissions.
Lipkes has been writing poetry for many years, and much of the verse in her book consists of a long poem that combines her personal story of illness and training in medicine with the history of various magic tricks.
At age 15 she was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune condition. “I was drawn to write about magic because of the time I spent when I was ill watching (magician) David Copperfield on YouTube late into the night, as well as the parallels I saw between the history of magic and medicine,” Lipkes said.
The title Radium Girl comes from a magic trick by the same name, in which a woman is locked in a tall, thin box and somehow emerges unharmed after steel rods and swords are plunged through holes in the box.
Lipkes attended high school in Florida, then enrolled at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in writing. While a college sophomore she won the Bellevue Literary Review’s 2009 Prize for Poetry.
She also took the time to work with youth in the Baltimore area, teaching poetry and neuroscience, and for a few summers volunteered at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s (CCFA) Camp Oasis in Georgia for children with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. She continued teaching poetry to first-year undergraduates while completing her master of fine arts degree in poetry at The University of Virginia.
From there she went to medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating in 2017 with her medical degree before matching to the Yale Psychiatry Residency Program.
Lipkes said she will send her manuscript to other contests with the goal of having it published by the time she completes residency. Meanwhile she is working on a creative nonfiction project of lyric essays about medical education.