Yours Truly

The new issue of PEN America, Correspondences, is about exactly that—literature as an exchange of words: “letters from writers to readers, from writers to the world.” In addition to some good fiction, drama, poetry, and graphic pieces there are a couple of published correspondences—which always make me feel vaguely voyeuristic, like I’m giving in to my worst impulses and reading someone’s email—and an ongoing feature, a forum on where participants are invited to either write a letter to an author or fictional character, or offer up a narrative about their own relationship to some of the newer forms of correspondence. There are a few nice ones up right now, including a sweet letter from Sam Lipsyte to the late Barry Hannah, and a great piece by Anya Ulinich on the potential squirminess of finding childhood friends on Facebook:

I hear from a skeletal woman dressed in furs, formerly a fellow fat kid. I remember her parents’ leopard-spotted bedspread that she was not allowed to touch; we sat on the floor and listened to the Scorpions. I hear from an obese man whose gallery of photos shows him raising a beer mug at a corporate Oktoberfest; my first-grade best friend, my first love. I hear from B., “the other Jew” in my grade. He sends me a link to his LiveJournal. The first post I read is a joke: “What are those dark specs on the market’s glass roof? No, it’s not bird shit—it’s Tadzhik gasterbeiter window washers.” I de-friend him.

There is a comment window, though I’m not sure if PEN is posting general contributions. On the other hand, if you’ve got a letter to a fictional character burning in your heart and want to be sure it will see the light of day, Letters with Character is is an entire blog devoted to just that. Inspired by Ben Greenman’s linked short story collection What He’s Poised to Do, Harper Perennial is asking for your epistolary contributions: “The letters can be funny, sad, demanding, fanciful, declarative, or trivial. They can be about a novel, a short story, or a children’s book, works both literary or popular. There is only one requirement: They must be written by a real person and must also address an unreal one.” There’s an excellent assortment up already, from a plaintive note to Young Werther to one addressed to that stylin’ fellow, Richard Scarry’s apple car-driving Lowly Worm:

Are the chassis and body organic? I’m really into organic these days, and local if possible, though I understand that most apple cars are made in Argentina. Such a shame.

Finally, how does it fare with the ladies? Because at first glance it’s kind of emasculating, like that Smart Car. But you’re a man of style, what with the feather in your cap, and that dope Brooklyn bowtie, and I figure you get all sorts of hipster worm tail. Am I wrong bro?

(But do think twice if you’re planning on writing to Juliet of Verona for advice to the lovelorn.)

If it’s a letter to a living author you’re thinking of, though, my suggestion is to send it straight on to the party in question. It’s never been easier to write fan mail, what with the contact information on writers’ websites and blogs and publishers’ pages, not to mention Twitter and Facebook, and fan mail is good. Not the stalker kind, granted, and if you’re writing Philip Roth there’s a good chance he’ll never see it. But really, how many authors are so fabulous that they wouldn’t be warmed to know they touched a reader, or what their words meant to someone personally? Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I’ve always gotten nice responses when I took the time to write.

And even if you think someone might be too fabulous, remember: You never know where a heartfelt declaration might get you. Cheryl Strayed just won a Pushcart Prize for her essay Munro Country, about a note she wrote to Alice Munro, the author’s reply, and the reverberations of two short letters. The piece is quite beautiful—take the time to read it. And then if you have some time left over, write someone a letter.

4 Comments to Yours Truly

  1. May 17, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Marvelous. And which serves to remind me I owe you a letter. And some skinks.

  2. kamal hossain miah's Gravatar kamal hossain miah
    February 7, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I am looking for a person who will become my second part,
    I am sure there is a man who was born for me, and who i can
    make happy. I am not looking for an ideal man, we all have our
    demerits, the only thing i would ask him is to be understanding,
    patient and caring man for me and for our future family.

  3. February 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    thank for the post and information! I think education is important for us so we must prepare the best education for our generation by sharing such great info with eachother!

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