When I heard that someone had released a new kind of carrier pigeon, I had to learn more. The pigeon, and many more epistolary surprises, are the work of the Letter Writers Alliance, an organization that encourages the art of letter writing. And this month, the LWA will launch a project that “blurs the lines between reality and fiction in the postal realm.” Consider my curiosity piqued!
Founders Kathy Zadrozny and Donovan Beeson started working together on 16 Sparrows, an online stationery company, in 2005. They kept hearing varying refrains from customers: either “no one writes real letters anymore” or “I’m the only one who still writes letters.” So in 2007, they formed the Alliance to nurture letter writing. LWA offers custom-designed stationery kits, organizes letter-writing events, hosts a pen-pal swap among its members . . . and now, the mysterious AUX endeavor. Below, Kathy and Donovan field a few questions about the Alliance and give us a sneak peek at their latest postal plan.
Q: What can you divulge about the upcoming AUX project?
Donovan: We will be launching the first in a series of AUX items in a site-specific scavenger hunt. The special on-location AUX release will be November 10th and the full online release will follow on the next Saturday, November 17th. The “hunt” will begin online with the trail leading adventurers to an undisclosed location in San Francisco. Clues and bread crumbs to start out our mail seekers on their adventure will start on our blog at the Letter Writers Alliance and lead them to various online locations until they discover the final reveal (hint: it will be via a Twitter feed).
During their trek through the clues, they will be collecting hints that will lead them to a pass phrase, which they submit, gifting them with a Direct Message to the coordinates to claim their prize in person. The adventure begins on the LWA blog on November 7th and adventurers will have to be in San Francisco the weekend of November 10th to complete the mission.
Q: Tell me more about each of your personal epistolary histories. Did you have pen pals while growing up, or write passionate love letters? Do you each have a particular letter that stands out as exceptional or inspiring?
Donovan: I’ve always loved sending and receiving mail. I never developed any lasting pen pal relationships as a child, although I have a great many now. I can remember my maternal grandmother sending what she called “goodie boxes” to our house at every holiday. Now, I’m the one who sends the goodies and I like it just as much being the sender as being the receiver. I also get a lot of great things in the mail. My pen pals will go out of their way to post me letters from under the sea, from a volcano, or from the oldest post office, or the smallest, or something of equal importance that they know I’ll enjoy.
Kathy: I can’t pinpoint the moment I started loving letters enough to start an Alliance, but I think my letter love started with a paper love. I enjoyed collecting and using odd paper. I used them in collages, and when I stopped doing that, I started using them in letter writing. As with most people, my letter writing jumped when I went away to college, since I wanted to keep in touch with those back home.
The most inspiring letter I have received so far is one written to me while I was completing my Masters thesis. I was stressed and tired and wondering when I would see the light at the end of the tunnel. My best friend, who rarely wrote letters, penned one to me that stated I was kick ass and would find my way out of all this work and feel good about the end product. It seems like such a little thing, but to have someone else tell you that it is going to be all right and that you can do something is all you need sometimes. Whenever I’m having a hard time or feel like I bit off more than I can chew, I take out that letter and reread it, knowing it is as true today as it was when she first wrote it.
Q: What are your favorite books of correspondence?
Donovan: I’m partway through Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter E. Neumeyer. I also devoured Women’s Letters, which collects the letters of women of all walks of life from the 1700s onward and uses their voices to show the immediacy of the history that surrounded them. Next on my list is The Raymond Chandler Papers.
Kathy: I just finished a novella written by Jane Austen called Lady Susan. It is a story that unfolds through an exchange of letters. It is a bit of a tense book, as Lady Susan is not a likable character. It is one of the few times I actually shook my fist at a fictional person. The story is quick, but engaging. I’ve been meaning to take on The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, but at 800 pages, I haven’t found the time to start it yet. It has come highly recommended to me from several LWA members.
Q: Do you have any book-publishing plans for special LWA correspondence?
Donovan: We have lovely crazy mad plans regarding publishing, but nothing very concrete. It falls into that dream category, right next to having a permanent space dedicated to letter writing and our own postal office.
Q: What is the most unusual, inspiring, or surprising LWA creation / story you’ve encountered so far?
Donovan: I get great things all the time. I am exceptionally lucky and am so grateful to all of my pen pals. We like to feature our members who are doing exceptional things on our blog. We’ve done a story on the pen pal exchange and experimental mail of our member David Solomon. Our member Kimberly spearheads a volunteer organization that collects mail for WWII veterans. I’ve received sticks and leaves, strange canisters, oddly folded papers . . . if it isn’t liquid, fragile, perishable or potentially hazardous and under 13 ounces, I have probably gotten it in the mail.
Q: Are there any benefits to letter writing that might not have occurred to people? There’s the emotional connection of course, but do you find that has other benefits too?
Donovan: For me, I’ve met so many people through the mail and been afforded so many opportunities because of those connections. A letter can be a ticket backstage, as it were. You must, I repeat, must send a follow up letter after a job interview if it is a job you really want. Sending a letter sets you apart from the email crowd and can be a good way to go the extra mile, get that little bit of special notice.
Kathy: It is a way to see another side of a person and of yourself. There are many things and ideas that would never come up in conversation that come to light when sitting down to write a letter. Thoughts have the time to be explored, options come to light that you never thought of—it is surprising how many solutions or ideas I have come up with while writing a letter. It engages another part of your mind you rarely put into service.
Q: Where do you store your special letters?
Donovan: Archiving is a very interesting topic in the letter writing community. Everyone does it differently. I have a “sloppy box method” where once I answer it, it goes in a box. In the world of mad dreams, LWA will eventually have an intern who gets the honor of cataloging all of it. Won’t that be fun?
Kathy: I store my special letters along with all my other letters. I organize my letters by person, so if I know I’m looking for a letter from Carolee, I’ll look through her folder and pick it out. The reason I don’t separate my “special” letters from my normal ones is because I enjoy the act of going through all of them and rediscovering letters long forgotten. It is amazing how much comes flooding back when you look upon a letter from the past.