Entertainment Books Women of letters: how they’re reviving a lost art

Women of letters: how they’re reviving a lost art

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There isn’t much sentimentality left in communication these days.

On Tinder for example, you can pay extra for the (creepy) privilege of checking out people who are overseas while you’re in another country.

You can initiate a conversation on Facebook by ‘Poking’ someone and, incredibly, you can even track the location somebody is messaging you from.

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Correspondence has become shallow, limitless and somewhat unromantic and snail mail seems to be dying – evidenced by Australia Post reporting its first full year profit loss in three decades.

But since 2010, author Michaela McGuire and writer, producer and artist Marieke Hardy have been fighting against the death of the letter by curating Women of Letters, a monthly celebration to cherish the ‘lost art of letter writing’.

With a monthly event in Melbourne, three published books, regular sittings in New York and tours to Europe and other parts of America, Women of Letters has become an example to the power of written and considered correspondence.

Teen prodigy Tavi Gevinson pens a letter to persistance and reward in Airmail Photo: Getty

Airmail is the fifth Women of Letters book to be published as a written record of the live events where celebrities, artists and writers share personal letters with their audience.

“The act of sitting down and writing a letter is very intimate and it is a very personal act,” Hardy tells The New Daily.

“When we see people sitting down to write letters they invariably share a lot of intimacy in that moment or honesty about there lives.”

“It is then incredible that they go and read that letter to a room of 300 to 400 people and that intimacy is preserved – that is the really special thing about all of this … we seem to be so lucky in always capturing this beautiful trust and honesty.”

For Hardy, letters have been something special for a long time, like in her teens when correspondence with her writing heroes inspired her path.

“When I was young, maybe 19, I sent letters to David Sedaris and Bill Bryson and they both wrote back personally,” Hardy says.

“Bill Bryson wrote a handwritten letter and David Sedaris wrote his on a typewriter because it was before he started using a computer.”

“They both addressed things I’d brought up in my letters and I felt really touched that these amazing brilliant people who would get bags of fan mail wrote back … they knew I was alive.”

But what makes a letter better than a text, or an email? Hardy thinks it’s a mixture of privacy, honesty and the ability for it to endure.

“There are always the mortifying consequences of replying to the wrong email and on the other hand I am sure I’ve seen lots of emails I am not supposed to see,” Hardy says.

“Letters are supposed to be from one person to [another] but I went through a big period of buying strangers letters and postcards from op-shops … I would pore over them and fantasise about these people and why they were writing this stuff.”

“A lot of people who are a bit older are able to find letters from their parents to each other or stuff their grandparents sent and you find a lot of things … What are people going to look through for us? Our hard drives?”

“Going into the attic and bringing out a USB and blowing the dust off it isn’t so romantic.”

Airmail: Taking Women of Letters to the World featuring Moby, Tim Minchin, Dr Anne Summers, Tavi Gevinson, Josh Radnor and more is out now via Penguin Books, with all proceeds going to charity.

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