The Joy of Letter Writing

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Letters have touched my life in many ways. When I attended Interlochen Arts Camp, each person wrote “train letters” at the end of the summer for everyone in their cabin, sharing special memories. My letters bring back the immediacy of that exhilarating time whenever I read them. Currently, I keep in touch with friends from Rhode Island, Canada, Great Britain and Singapore through letters and postcards.

Many students and professors at MSU love the personal touch and intentionality of handwritten letters, as well as the anticipation of opening an envelope. 

Arts and Humanities senior Izzy Cooper writes letters to stay connected with friends from her summer as a camp counselor, as well as to her mother. Lately, she’s been writing several letters each week, and finds they create a genuine connection. “With a letter, you’re holding the same piece of paper that they were holding,” she says. “When I read letters that people send me, I read them in their voices; it’s a narrative that they have created and sent to me.” She takes time to compose letters thoughtfully. “I think it’s a way for me to show people that I’m still invested in them … I feel like I always end up talking about what I love about a person in a letter to them.”

During his time deployed in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia with the U.S. Marine Corps, International Relations senior Adam Grajewski exchanged letters with friends and family. “The letters serve as an outlet for feelings that perhaps you couldn’t express to those in your immediate surroundings,” he reflects. “It’s invaluable to have that resource.” He also received letters from strangers, including elementary school students, through organizations such as Operation Gratitude. “It’s a generic letter, but it’s so heartfelt.” Even during times when email and phone contact were available, he felt the value of exchanging letters wasn’t diminished.

“There’s nothing like it,” says English professor Marcia Aldrich, who agrees that email isn’t an equal substitute for letter writing.  She has kept in touch with one friend for years mostly by letters: “Most of my closest friends live elsewhere and come from different periods of my life and our relationships now are conducted over email … (My friend) is the last letter writer in the bunch.”

Dr. Robin Silbergleid, Director of Creative Writing, says that while she was in college, letter writing was how she kept in touch with friends at other schools, but that the wait time between sending and receiving could be significant. She still writes letters when she has time.

Letters can capture a series of moments in time. Professional Writing freshman Hanna Kielar said that a friend from England wrote to her for a year and then sent all the letters at once; Kielar still keeps the letters, but now they stay in touch through Facebook.

Arts and Humanities sophomore Hannah Warren often receives mail from her family, including a surprise Halloween card. She remembers that when writing her graduation thank-you notes, she tried to add something special to each one. “Writing a letter is fun,” she says. “It’s like a lost art … you have to be careful with what you say.”

Recently, mail has been used to create community in innovative ways. With The Race Card Project, author and NPR journalist Michele Norris sparked a worldwide conversation by inviting participants to submit a postcard detailing their thoughts about race in just six words. PostSecret is an ongoing community mail art project that encourages participants to create and send a postcard containing a true secret they have never shared with anyone before. These projects can be viewed online at theracecardproject.com and postsecret.com. Curious explorers at MSU can visit the University Archives & Historical Collections in Conrad Hall, which contains original letters and diaries, photographs and oral histories, spanning over 150 years.

As we near Thanksgiving, I challenge each reader to write and mail a note to someone they care about. Take the time to reconnect and brighten someone’s day. In Cooper’s words, “It helps to know that just because there might be distance between two people, you still really value who they are, and really care about them, even if you’re not seeing them every day.”

 

Jenny Crakes is an arts and humanities and professional writing senior in the editing and publishing track. She’s an education coordinator with the RCAH Center for Poetry, and an intercultural aide with the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions. Her interests include creative writing, theatre, dance and the outdoors.

 

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