Is the letter dead? Has it been murdered by e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook?
Two hundred years ago Americans spent hours writing letters. That correspondence—with its formal salutations, stationery, and rituals—connected people, gave testimony to our past, and formed a personal and historical legacy.
Explore the art of letter-writing, drawing on examples of some of the great historical letters housed in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art and other sources. The letters of both the famous—Mark Twain, Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway—and ordinary citizens writing about the joys and travails of everyday life are brought to life through staged readings by actors.
The program concludes with a discussion of the future of the letter in the age of the Internet and the struggling U.S. Postal Service, and a look at a movement to preserve the hand-written letter, including websites that aggregate old letters and ones that encourage letter-writing.
Alice Lecesse Powers is a writer and editor who teaches writing at the Corcoran College of Art+Design.
See the Smithsonian Archives' More Than Words: Illustrated Letters exhibition to read exhuberant thank you notes, winsome love letters, and lively reports of current events.
Click here to see a collection of illustrated letters in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.