Janet Vincent Taylor on Letter Writing

When I told a friend that I was going to offer a class at Ghost Ranch Fall Writing Festival called The Art of Letter Writing, the truth as he saw it slipped out before he had a chance to censor himself. “If that class makes it will be full of old people.”

He teaches college kids so perhaps he doesn’t realize the pleasure and vitality of the over-fifty set. (these are my people, friend!) Besides, have you noticed that young people have taken up knitting, canning, gardening, pin-hole photography and the ukulele, all antique arts now born again with a 21st century sensibility ? Letter writing may be the next new thing.

Letters stuffed into an envelope and sent at the current rate of 44 cents could make a comeback, not for expediency sake, for sure, but for art’s sake. Whoever turns up in my class, of whatever age, will be invited to think about letters and why they matter, both historically and in the current context.

Letters from prison, letters from the road, from wars, and letters of comfort to parents, to children, and love letters. We’ll read letters and write some of our own.

What role did letters play in keeping alive the marriage of Georgia O’Keefe to Alfred Stieglitz over such long separations?

The writer Leslie Marmon Silko says to the poet, James Wright, after taking up a whole letter describing the personality of her rooster in the yard: You never know what’s going to happen in a letter.

Charles M. Russell had few grammatical skills but he dashed off illustrated letters and post cards, keeping friendships alive with little more than a savvy sentence or two.

The letter is one of the most familiar forms of communication, and one of the most intimate. Letters can be exuberant, sad, bossy, philosophical, fragmented, long-winded, and funny, but they are most enduring and artful when they are revelatory and honest in personal expression.

Charles Lamb, the 19th century essayist and avid letter writer, said writing a letter is like whispering through a trumpet. Write a letter today. Let it whisper or let it trumpet. Please, let it do more than tweet.

This author is blogging at Room of One’s Own.

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