The Art of Letter Writing Has Had a Profound Effect on Writers and Readers for Centuries

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handwritten letters of note

The Art of Letter Writing Has Had a Profound Effect on Writers and Readers for Centuries

On April 12, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and jailed in Birmingham, Alabama. While sitting in jail, he wrote an 11-page letter on newspaper margins and paper scraps.

In response to a letter written by white clergymen condemning civil rights protests, Dr King’s letter had a major influence on the racial justice movement. The letter was widely published and has been quoted for decades.

Dr. King’s writings were just one of many important historical letters of note that profoundly impacted the world. Today, however, letter writing, whether in response to an injustice or as a thank-you to grandparents for a birthday present, is a lost art.

A Historically Important Way to Communicate

For centuries, letter writing was an important, and in many cases, the only way to communicate news with family and friends. Letters expressed love, negotiated business deals, shared news of births, weddings and deaths, and conveyed opinions about the major topics of the day.

Letter writing, often replaced today by emails and texts, can positively impact the writer and the reader. Letter writing has many benefits, including:

  • Calming Your Mind. Taking a few minutes from your hectic schedule to sit and write letters of note can be an effective way to decompress
  • Stronger Connection. Expressing your feelings for the letter’s recipient can provide a deeper connection to that person, strengthening the bond despite distance
  • Practising Penmanship. A carefully crafted letter helps you practice legible, precise penmanship and lettering

Many Options for Recipients

Wondering to whom you should write, there are many wonderful options, including:

  • Family. Your grandmother or grandfather would deeply appreciate a thank-you note or a letter sharing what you’ve been up to. Also, consider writing to cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. Your parents or siblings would love a letter, even if you speak with them often
  • Friends. Is there a pal from school or university with whom you’ve lost touch? Handwritten correspondence is a lovely way to break the ice and reestablish a connection
  • Politicians. Is there a national, local or global issue that you feel your representatives need to know about? Take pen to paper and express your views to your elected officials. You’ll likely hear back
  • Pen Pals. Many online sites and Facebook groups are dedicated to starting pen pal relationships. Find a new friend in a far-off land and begin a written exchange of ideas, customs, beliefs and interests
  • Celebrities. A letter to an actor, athlete or musician you admire is a great way to express your appreciation for their talent. Celebrities greatly value fan mail, even if they may not be able to respond to every written letter
  • Yourself. Write a letter to yourself! Reflect on where you are and write to a younger or older version of you

Other Famous Historical Letters

Dr. King’s famous letter is one of many that have had a major effect on society. Here are a few other letters of note:

Charles Darwin, a prolific letter writer, sent a note to his dear friend Joseph Dalton Hooker in January 1844. The letter laid out the beginning of Darwin’s theory that animals were not immutable and could change over time, a precursor to his ideas of natural selection and evolution.

Assistant private secretary Eliot Crawshay-Williams wrote to Winston Churchill shortly after Churchill became prime minister in 1940. Crawshay-Williams urged Churchill to take a conciliatory stance against Nazi Germany. Churchill’s brief response was notable – “I am ashamed of you for writing such a letter. I return it to you – to burn & forget.”

Whether etched in history, stored carefully in a drawer or shoebox or kept in a wallet or purse, a well-written letter can become invaluable.