[Sami Jensen] “Writing letters was good enough for James Joyce and T.S. Eliot — Why not us?” Later in this feature, we’ll show you the modern handwritten note from which we’ve extracted this tidbit. It’s part of a traveling exhibition that grew out of The Handwritten Letter Project — which is only one of nine notable initiatives (most with vibrant websites) dedicated to preserving, promoting and proliferating personal correspondence in the electronic era.
First up is the month-long letter writing initiative Snail Mail My Email, we highlighted a few weeks ago, wherein San Francisco-based art director Ivan Cash, disheartened by the lack of warmth and personality in digital culture, called out to kindred spirits, asking them to send him their e-mails so he could send each intended recipient a handwritten letter instead of the less personal digital version. Cash had to call in volunteers after getting 1000 e-mails during the fourth day of the project. By the time the project ended Aug. 15, 10,457 handwritten letters had been sent to over 50 countries!
Many observers complain that letter writing is dead, especially among younger generations, who have e-mail attached to their hips (sometimes literally). But this isn’t true in Augusta County, Va., where postmaster Kevin Blackford has implemented the A Letter is Better program in local elementary schools, supplying each student with a prepaid envelope and prompting them to write one letter to a person of their choice. Since 2007, the program has encouraged 3000 elementary school students to take the time to pen a letter. Read about the project here.
Also launched in 2007 was the Letter Writers Alliance, a member-based organization whose mission is to keep alive the artform of letter writing. Founders Kathy Zadrozny and Donovan Beeson are two of the 1600+ members worldwide who sponsor monthly meet-ups and encourage members to write to friends, family and pen pals. The project was included in Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler’s book, Good Mail Day. (Read more at the LWA blog, and learn more about becoming a member here.)
We’ve also featured the blog Letters of Note, chock-full of interesting handwritten letters, postcards, memos and other personal correspondence curated by Shaun Usher, freelance copywriter and editor of Letterheady. Scans of original correspondence (like the letter above from Pixar animator Austin Madison) are used whenever possible, giving the digital collection an analog feel. Since the blog’s beginning in 2009, Usher has featured 574 letters.
The Handwritten Letter Project is another treasury of letters from notable people. Started by graphic designer Craig Oldham in 2007, the U.K.-based project extended an invitation to designers and creative thinkers to simply write their thoughts in handwritten form on their personal or business stationery. The website showcases correspondence since the project was launched, featuring the thoughts of some of the best designers and design studios from the world over, including Michael Bierut, Milton Glaser, Stefan Sagmeister, Adrian Shaughnessy and many others. Shaughnessy’s letter, above, is the source of our introduction.The project is now a touring exhibition.
We’re also fans of Dear Blank, Please Blank, founded in 2010 by Jared Wunsch and Hans Johnson. This site has provided us endless hours of insight and laughter. It’s not exactly handwritten, but the letter-writing sentiment is still there. People submit anonymous letters about things that are bothersome, sweet or just plain silly. Lisa Krowinski of Sapling Press, working with the site’s creators, developed an eponymous Dear Blank greeting card line — blank inside for your handwritten, personalized pleasure — and won the award for Best New Product in the Paper Style category at this year’s National Stationery Show. (This was Krowinski’s second collaboration with Wunsch, which you’ll hear about in a few weeks.)
You’ve probably heard of The 1000 Journals Project, a personal correspondence concept that has generated lots of buzz — plus a book, a documentary and several exhibitions. We’ve featured graphic designer, Altitude founder and “captain” of the 1000 Journals Project Brian Singer and his ambitious undertaking several times. It all began with just 100 journals: In 2000, Singer (under the alias “SomeGuy“) left the numbered journals in parks, coffee shops, public places … and gave some to friends. After a while, he began getting e-mails from others asking to participate, so he sent 900 more journals out into the world. Slots to contribute to the journals filled up so quickly that Singer launched 1001 Journals, an initiative for people to participate in by submitting their own journals.
Frank Warren’s PostSecret is an ongoing community mail-art project in which people are encouraged to write their secrets anonymously on a handmade postcard and mail it to him. Every Sunday, new secrets would be posted to the PostSecret blog. Since 2005, over 500,000 secrets have been submitted and five PostSecret books have been published.
And last, but not least, Postcrossing is another community postcard project initiated by Paulo Magalhães in 2005. Postcards from all over the world are submitted to Postcrossing, then sent on randomly to other Postcrossers. Users rarely (if ever) receive two postcards from the same person.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of some wonderful community art and personal correspondence projects. If you’re aware of others, please comment below — or send us a handwritten letter: Felt & Wire, Mohawk Fine Papers; Post Office Box 497; Cohoes, NY 12047.
Lead photo: Outgoing mail from the unmistakable pen of Jennie Hinchcliff