Letters as private literature

“Letters are magical. I never throw out a good letter. They enable us to nurture, connect and communicate with a worldwide circle of friends--friends we otherwise might never have met. They open doors to innumerable emotions and experiences. Letters document the chapters in our lives--our discoveries, our passions, our sorrows and growth as well as all the ebb and flow inevitable in life. Letters allow us to be personal, natural and specific. More than any other medium, letters provide an uninhibited view of everyday life--the most accurate and natural form of autobiography. Like an intimate conversation between friends, they record immediate circumstances, events, news, gossip and feelings. They are detailed; they act as a zoom lens into specific moments, experiences, and emotions. When I write a letter to a friend, I bring that person into my day, describing domestic events, my mood, my attitude, colors and pleasures. A cut finger, my cold, news of my children, the weather, music, smells from the kitchen, are all shared. If I write a letter late at night in the intimacy of one lamp I tend to describe my surroundings and the stillness. If I write a letter from a restaurant I might describe what looks good on the menu. Scenes are painted, stories told that linger as long as the letter, and beyond.

“A letter can be written for any number of reasons--joy, pain, neglect, love, lust, desire, loneliness, flight of fancy, disgust, ecstacy--but always there is overwhelming need to share, to connect, to feel understood. That’s why a letter is a blessing, a great and all-too-rare privilege. More personal than even a favorite book, more alive than a favored possession, a letter is written, addressed and mailed to one, and only one, person. Consequently, a letter holds enormous impact. Whenever one needs to feel close to a good friend, all one has to do is write a letter.”

Gift of a Letter (1990, HarperCollins, 6-7)
Alexandra Stoddard

For some time I’ve thought the most important use of writing by most people was not for publication or jobs or business (the usual aims of writing programs) but to create family and community literature or scripture. It seems letter writing might be the most direct way to communicate this.

As some of you have noted in the historical letters you’ve found in your communities, many letters are not very interesting because they were not well written. Imagine how rich and wonderful the past and the future would be if people really did learn to use the lessons of literature in crafting letters that are powerful, detailed, personal and honest. (Such letters could, of course, be “mailed” via email.)


Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/20 at 11:05 PM
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