• Keeping Friends

Pen Pals Still Exist: The Friendship Doctor Interviews the Founders of the Letter Writers Alliance

March 6, 2012 | By | Reply Continue Reading

Snail mail correspondence can cement connections with old friends and help us make new ones.

 

On several prior blog posts, commenters at The Friendship Blog expressed interested in connecting with pen pals. I read about an organization called The Letter Writers Alliance and interviewed its founders, Kathy Zadrozny and Donovan Beeson, so they (and you and I) could learn more about it.

What is the Letter Writers Alliance?

In this era of instantaneous communication, a handwritten letter is a rare and wondrous item. The Letter Writers Alliance is dedicated to preserving this art form. Neither long lines, nor late deliveries, nor increasing postal rates will keep us from our mission.

We are a member-based organization dedicated to keeping the art of letter writing alive that was started in the summer of 2007 by Kathy Zadrozny and Donovan Beeson. With a combination of both online presence and in person gatherings we strive to give people the tools to maintain the art of letter writing. We are a commercial organization in conjunction with our stationery company, 16 Sparrows.

How did it start? And Kathryn and Donovan, how did you get involved with the group?

The Letter Writers Alliance exists because Kathy (her full name is spelled Kathelijne) and I grew tired of hearing people say that they loved letters, but nobody writes them anymore. We heard this a hundred times in one day, for two days straight.

A light bulb just went off for both of us: What if we could link up these people, who participate in a solitary art, and connect them so they don’t feel like the only ones anymore? That is when we decided to start the Alliance. We decided to create the Alliance to network those letter lovers together. We created a website and came up with a concept for what a membership would entail and what kind of perks came with it.

Can you tell us a little about each of you?

Donovan is in her late twenties and currently lives at the juncture of three different neighborhoods on the west side of Chicago. Her fascinations include the U.S.P.S., religious iconography, and vintage office supplies. Kathy is a librarian by day and graphic designer by night, whilst also co-running 16 Sparrows and LWA. Donovan and Kathy were roommates first, then friends, and now business partners and best friends. You can find either of us at the semi-monthly Letter Writing Socials we host around Chicago armed with typewriters, free stationery, and sometimes free booze (to help those letters flow more freely).

Why are letters still vital in an email world?

If you reach back and remember the joy from receiving a letter, something to hold, to reread, to treasure and then imagine passing that feeling on to someone else. A letter means even
more today than it used to. They became mundane, but are now almost sacred
artifacts. It’s a small, very small, price to pay to touch someone the way that
a letter can. You start by sending them out and the reward is receiving them. I
don’t think letter writing is lost and I do think there are enough to keep it
going. A lot of people just need to take the first step; send that first
letter. You have to write a letter to get a letter, is what we say. Nearly
every day, we get a new member in our Letter Writers Alliance and we’ve got
over 2300 members right now.

 

What
role does paper choice play in writing letters?

Donovan: I select what I hope is the “proper” paper for my
letter. It is nice to be able to let the paper speak for you in a way. A thick
cotton stock with a deckled edge sends a very different message than a
patterned cartoon character stationery sheet. I love having a lot of choices
available, and customizing each one of my responses with paper and stamps and
not just my words. There’s a whole other level of communication occurring in
the tangible world of correspondence that email just doesn’t have.

 

Kathy: Paper plays a large role and changes depending on the
tool you use to write it. If using a fountain pen, I choose a thick paper with
some tooth to it. If it is on a typewriter, I prefer to use something with a
smooth texture that is a bit thin, because I like the puncture marks the keys
make with letters like “i” and “p.” The paper is what makes
the writing process fun and keeps you going. If I choose a paper that makes it
hard to write with, my letters seem strained and I try to sign off as soon as a
can. If both pen and paper melds easily, I become lost in my thoughts and write
freely.

 

When
are the benefits of membership in the Alliance and how does one join?

We offer free downloads of stationery and cards, members only
products and projects, and we run a blog three times a week open to the public
with all the goings on in the letter writing world. We also offer a pen pal swap
between members, run mail art contests, and have a special currency that
members can earn through community involvement and the turn in for free things.
We use tools like Twitter and email to keep our members informed on
the latest postal news, etc. We always tell people that we aren’t
anti-email; we’re just pro real-mail. Mainly, we just want people to write more
letters. Membership is free with purchase of our Letter Writers Alliance
stationery or can be purchased on its own through our website (letterwriters.org).

 

Anything
else I should have asked?

Our online nature: Many people feel it is odd to have a letter-writing
group online. We see the humor in it as well, but we are using our member website
as a tool. Our members go online, get the tools they need to write, and then go
offline and write letters. It is a clubhouse, a place to feel connected to
others like you, and the motivation to keep writing those letters to others you
feel connected to.

 

Letter Socials: The Letter Socials we host are free events where
people come together (members and non-members) to write letters together. We
supply typewriters and stationery and they come armed with their address books.
With these socials we turn the solitary action of letter writing on its ear by
turning it into a social event. There is some conversation and sharing of
ideas, but mainly, everyone is clacking away at the typewriters writing letters
to friends and family.

 

Prior posts on The Friendship Blog about letter-writing:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS

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