Feb 6, 2015

20 Amazing Letters Worth Reading

By on Friday, February 06, 2015

Since 2009, Shaun Usher has curated the incredible blog, Letters of Note; a collection of fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes and memos throughout history. Usher has carefully catalogued nearly 1000 letters and going through the archive is a recurring ritual for the Sifter.
Last year, 125 of the most entertaining, inspiring and unusual letters from the blog were printed in a spectacular 352-page hardcover book published by Chronicle. You can find UK versions here and US versions here. You can also find exclusive limited editions and signed versions through Unbound.

1. Kurt Vonnegut Replies to Students

In 2006 Ms. Lockwood, an English teacher at Xavier High School, asked her students to write a letter to a famous author. She wanted them discuss the author’s work and ask for advice. Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007) was the only one to write back.
Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut
2. Bill Watterson’s Comic Advice

Back in the 1980s, photographer and Calvin and Hobbes fan Todd Church wrote a letter to Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson who wrote back this amazing letter with helpful tips and advice about comic strip cartooning.

Dear Todd,

Thank you for your letter. Here are some general comic strip cartooning tips that I’ve tried to make helpful for people at all levels of advancement. I hope these will apply to your work.

1. Materials are not important, so long as your work reproduces and reduces clearly. It’s what you do WITH the materials that counts.
2. I think characters are more important than jokes. Any cartoonist ought to be able to come up with funny gags, but the best strips have rounded, complex characters that readers can care about. Cartoon characters should be more than standing props to deliver jokes.
3. Don’t imitate other strips. Editors are looking for something new and original.
4. Most importantly, have fun with your work, and practice writing and drawing all you can.

Good luck,
W.B. Watterson

Stephen Fry on Depression

In 2006 a young lady named Crystal Nunn was suffering from serious depression and felt she needed someone to confide in and ease the pain. She decided to write a letter to her hero, Stephen Fry, who himself had gone through stages of depression.
Dear Crystal,

I’m so sorry to hear that life is getting you down at the moment. Goodness knows, it can be so tough when nothing seems to fit and little seems to be fulfilling. I’m not sure there’s any specific advice I can give that will help bring life back its savour. Although they mean well, it’s sometimes quite galling to be reminded how much people love you when you don’t love yourself that much.

I’ve found that it’s of some help to think of one’s moods and feelings about the world as being similar to weather:

Here are some obvious things about the weather:

It’s real.
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.


It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will.
One day.

It really is the same with one’s moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. They are real. Depression, anxiety, listlessness – these are as real as the weather – AND EQUALLY NOT UNDER ONE’S CONTROL. Not one’s fault.


They will pass: they really will.

In the same way that one has to accept the weather, so one has to accept how one feels about life sometimes. “Today’s a crap day,” is a perfectly realistic approach. It’s all about finding a kind of mental umbrella. “Hey-ho, it’s raining inside: it isn’t my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it, but sit it out. But the sun may well come out tomorrow and when it does, I shall take full advantage.”

I don’t know if any of that is of any use: it may not seem it, and if so, I’m sorry. I just thought I’d drop you a line to wish you well in your search to find a little more pleasure and purpose in life.

Very best wishes
Stephen Fry

5. The Best Cover Letter Ever

After working in advertising as a copywriter in New York City, Robert Pirosh moved to Hollywood in 1934 with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. Below is a transcript of the cover letter he sent to all of the directors, producers and studio execs he could think of. Pirosh went on to win an Academy Award in 1949.
Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.

I have just returned and I still like words.

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh
385 Madison Avenue
Room 610
New York
Eldorado 5-6024

6. Bribing Tom Hanks

Back in 2012, Chris Hardwick (of The Nerdist podcast) tried to coax Tom Hanks into appearing on his show by sending him a rare 1934 Smith Corona typewriter. Hanks, an avid typewriter collector, sent back this letter to Chris.
Dear Chris, Ashley, and all the diabolical genuies at Nerdist Industries.

Just who do you think you are to try to briibe me into an apperance on your ‘thing’ with this gift of the most fantastic Cornona Silent typewriter made in 1934?

You are out of your minds if you think… that I… wow, this thing has great action… and this deep crimson color… Wait! I’m not so shallow as to… and it types nearly silently…


I will have my people contact yours and work out some kind of interview process…

Damn you all to hell,

7. Steve Martin’s Generic Response Letter

Back in the 1980s, fans of actor Steve Martin received (mostly) generic response letters like this. This particular reply was sent to a teenage boy named Jerry.

DEAR Jerry,





8. Pixar Movies Don’t Get Finished

Back in 2008, avid Disney and Pixar fan Adam wrote a letter to Pete Docter, the award-winning director of Monsters, Inc and at the yet to be released film, Up. Hoping for a signed photo, Adam got a reply letter he will never forget.

Hey Adam!

First off, let me apologize for taking so long to respond to your very kind letter. Things are pretty nuts around here. You had asked for an autographed photo of me; I don’t really have anything like that, not being famous. But here is a drawing of me for you.

I’m sure you can see the resemblance.

You are sure right about the importance of a good story in movies. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It takes a lot of work (and rework, and rework and rework) to get it right. And even then quite often we’re not 100% pleased.

As John Lasseter likes to say, our films don’t get finished, they just get released.

Hope you enjoy “UP” next year!

9. 1964: Kubrick’s Collaboration Odyssey

On 31 March 1964 Kubrick sent a letter to author Arthur C. Clarke to see if he wanted to collaborate on the “proverbial ‘really good’ science-fiction movie.” Four years later, 2001: A Space Odyssey was released.
Dear Mr Clarke:

It’s a very interesting coincidence that our mutual friend Caras mentioned you in a conversation we were having about a Questar telescope. I had been a great admirer of your books for quite a time and had always wanted to discuss with you the possibility of doing the proverbial “really good” science-fiction movie.

My main interest lies along these broad areas, naturally assuming great plot and character:
1. The reasons for believing in the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life.
2. The impact (and perhaps even lack of impact in some quarters) such discovery would have on Earth in the near future.
3. A space probe with a landing and exploration of the Moon and Mars.

Roger tells me you are planning to come to New York this summer. Do you have an inflexible schedule? If not, would you consider coming sooner with a view to a meeting, the purpose of which would be to determine whether an idea might exist or arise which could sufficiently interest both of us enough to want to collaborate on a screenplay?

Incidentally, “Sky & Telescope” advertise a number of scopes. If one has the room for a medium size scope on a pedestal, say the size of a camera tripod, is there any particular model in a class by itself, as the Questar is for small portable scopes?

Best regards,
Stanley Kubrick

10. Audrey Hepburn on Movies and Music

Upon hearing the musical score for her latest film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hepburn immediately penned the following letter to composer Henry Mancini who would go on to win an Academy Award for the film.
Dear Henry,

I have just seen our picture – BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S – this time with your score.

A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality. Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring. Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty.

You are the hippest of cats – and the most sensitive of composers!

Thank you, dear Hank.

Lots of love

11. When Keith Met Mick

Back in 1962, a then 18-year old Keith Richards wrote a letter to his Aunt Petty about a number of things including a chance reunion with his childhood friend Mick Jagger. Three months later, The Rolling Stones played their first gig at the Marquee Club in London.
Dear Pat,

So sorry not to have written before (I plead insane) in bluebottle voice. Exit right amid deafening applause.

I do hope you’re very well.

We have survived yet another glorious English Winter. I wonder which day Summer falls on this year?

Oh but my dear I have been soooo busy since Christmas beside working at school. You know I was keen on Chuck Berry and I thought I was the only fan for miles but one mornin’ on Dartford Stn. (that’s so I don’t have to write a long word like station) I was holding one of Chuck’s records when a guy I knew at primary school 7-11 yrs y’know came up to me. He’s got every record Chuck Berry ever made and all his mates have too, they are all rhythm and blues fans, real R&B I mean (not this Dinah Shore, Brook Benton crap) Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Chuck, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker all the Chicago bluesmen real lowdown stuff, marvelous. Bo Diddley he’s another great.

Anyways the guy on the station, he is called Mick Jagger and all the chicks and the boys meet every Saturday morning in the ‘Carousel’ some juke-joint well one morning in Jan I was walking past and decided to look him up. Everybody’s all over me I get invited to about 10 parties. Beside that Mick is the greatest R&B singer this side of the Atlantic and I don’t mean maybe. I play guitar (electric) Chuck style we got us a bass player and drummer and rhythm-guitar and we practice 2 or 3 nights a week. SWINGIN’.

Of course they’re all rolling in money and in massive detached houses, crazy, one’s even got a butler. I went round there with Mick (in the car of course Mick’s not mine of course) OH BOY ENGLISH IS IMPOSSIBLE.

“Can I get you anything, sir?”
“Vodka and lime, please”
“Certainly, sir”

I really felt like a lord, nearly asked for my coronet when I left.

Everything here is just fine.

I just can’t lay off Chuck Berry though, I recently got an LP of his straight from Chess Records Chicago cost me less than an English record.

Of course we’ve still got the old Lags here y’know Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and 2 new shockers Shane Fenton and Jora Leyton SUCH CRAP YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD. Except for that greaseball Sinatra ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Still I don’t get bored anymore. This Saturday I am going to an all night party.

“I looked at my watch
It was four-o-five
Man I didn’t know
If I was dead or alive”
Quote Chuck Berry
Reeling and a Rocking

12 galls of Beer Barrel of Cyder, 3 bottle Whiskey Wine. Her ma and pa gone away for the weekend I’ll twist myself till I drop (I’m glad to say).

The Saturday after Mick and I are taking 2 girls over to our favourite Rhythm & Blues club over in Ealing, Middlesex.

They got a guy on electric harmonica Cyril Davies fabulous always half drunk unshaven plays like a mad man, marvelous.

Well then I can’t think of anything else to bore you with, so I’ll sign off goodnight viewers


Keith xxxxx
Who else would write such bloody crap

12. Wil Wheaton’s 21 Year Response

In 1988, a then 8-year old Teresa Jusino saved up $12 so she could join “WilPower”, the official fan club of Wil Wheaton. For reasons not known, Teresa never got her membership kit. In 2009, the 29-year old Jusino, who was now a writer, suddenly received the following after Wil was alerted to her story.
Dear 8 year-old Teresa,

I wanted to apologize to you for making you wait so long to get your official WilPower fanclub membership kit. You see, 15 year-old me is very busy with work and school, and the people who were responsible for getting your membership kit mailed back to you must have made a mistake.

It’s been a long time since the fan club did anything, but I’ve enclosed a membership card for you, as well as a wallet photo, and a picture that shows you how much I love Batman (HINT: It’s a lot.)

WilPower members got updates about me and my work a few times a year, but the fan club stopped sending those out a long time ago. My latest update, though, goes like this: I got married, I have two boys who I love more than anything in the world, and I’m a writer now, just like you!

And now, 8 year-old Teresa, I want to tell you something very important before I sign off, so listen closely: When you grow up, you’re going to be a great writer. I can’t tell you how I know, but I hope you’ll trust me; I just do. So stay in school, always do your best, and treat people the way you want to be treated.

Thank you for being part of my fan club,
Wil Wheaton

13. Conan’s Prom Date

In 2003, 11th grader Nikki Simmons took a leap of faith and asked her idol, Conan O’Brien, if he’d like to go to the prom with her. Although he ultimately declined the offer, O’Brien wrote back the following note and doodle.
Dear Nikki –

Thanks for your very flattering offer. It’s great to know I have such a devoted fan out there, and I’m sure you would make a great prom date (I didn’t go to mine – it’s a very sad story).

Unfortunately, I got married recently and my wife doesn’t allow me to go to proms anymore with cute 16 year old girls. Still, it was very cool of you to ask me. Thanks and have a great evening.

Your Friend,

14. The Most Badass Sign-Off of All Time

In 1775, as the American Revolution War was beginning, Benjamin Franklin penned an angry letter to William Strahan, a British member of parliament who until that point, had been a friend of Franklin’s for thirty years. The sign off at thee end is perhaps the most badass of all time.
Mr. Strahan

You are a Member of Parliament, and one of that Majority which has doomed my Country to Destruction. You have begun to burn our Towns and murder our People. — Look upon your hands! They are stained with the Blood of your Relations! — You and I were long Friends:— You are now my Enemy, — and

I am,


B. Franklin

15. Obama on the Differences That Unite Us

In 2012, 10-year old Sophia Bailey-Klugh wrote a letter to President Obama asking for advice on how to respond to school kids that thought it was gross that she has two dads. The President wrote back an incredible response, talking about diversity and the differences that unite us.
Dear Barack Obama,

It’s Sophia Bailey Klugh. Your friend who invited you to dinner. You don’t remember okay that’s fine. But I just wanted to tell you that I am so glad you agree that two men can love each other because I have two dads and they love each other. But at school kids think that it’s gross and weird but it really hurts my heart and feelings. So I come to you because you are my hero. If you were me and you had two dads that loved each other, and kids at school teased you about it, what would you do?

Please respond!

I just wanted to say you really inspire me, and I hope you win on being the president. You would totally make the world a better place.

Your friend Sophia

P.S. Please tell your daughters Hi for me!
Dear Sophia,

Thank you for writing me such a thoughtful letter about your family. Reading it made me proud to be your president and even more hopeful about the future of our nation.

In America, no two families look the same. We celebrate this diversity. And we recognize that whether you have two dads or one mom what matters above all is the love we show one another. You are very fortunate to have two parents who care deeply for you. They are lucky to have such an exceptional daughter in you.

Our differences unite us. You and I are blessed to live in a country where we are born equal no matter what we look like on the outside, where we grow up, or who our parents are. A good rule is to treat others the way you hope they will treat you. Remind your friends at school about this rule if they say something that hurts your feelings.

Thanks again for taking the time to write to me. I’m honored to have your support and inspired by your compassion. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to dinner, but I’ll be sure to tell Sasha and Malia you say hello.


16. Clinton Sends His Condolences

On 5 April 1993, Chris Webber of the Michigan Wolverines called the infamous ‘time-out‘ with 11 seconds left. Unfortunately his team had no more time-outs to call and they lost possession of the ball, ultimately losing the game and the National Championship by a score of 73-71. A dejected Webber (who would on to a successful NBA career) received the following letter of encouragement from then President, Bill Clinton.
Dear Chris,

I have been thinking of you a lot since I sat glued to the TV during the championship game.

I know that there may be nothing I or anyone else can say to ease the pain and disappointment of what happened.

Still, for whatever it’s worth, you, and your team, were terrific. And part of playing for high stakes under great pressure is the constant risk of mental error. I know. I have lost two political races and made countless mistakes over the last twenty years. What matters is the intensity, integrity, and courage you bring to the effort. That is certainly what you have done. You can always regret what occurred but don’t let it get you down or take away the satisfaction of what you have accomplished.

You have a great future. Hang in there.

Bill Clinton

17. Iggy Tells a Fan It Gets Better

Back in 1995, a then 21-year old fan named Laurence wrote a 20-page letter to one of her music idols, Iggy Pop. Nine months later, Laurence received the uplifting letter below including details that demonstrated he had read the entire letter she had sent.

dear laurence,

thankyou for your gorgeous and charming letter, you brighten up my dim life. i read the whole fucking thing, dear. of course, i’d love to see you in your black dress and your white socks too. but most of all i want to see you take a deep breath and do whatever you must to survive and find something to be that you can love. you’re obviously a bright fucking chick, w/ a big heart too and i want to wish you a (belated) HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY 21st b’day and happy spirit. i was very miserable and fighting hard on my 21st b’day, too. people booed me on the stage, and i was staying in someone else’s house and i was scared. it’s been a long road since then, but pressure never ends in this life. ‘perforation problems’ by the way means to me also the holes that will always exist in any story we try to make of our lives. so hang on, my love, and grow big and strong and take your hits and keep going.

all my love to a really beautiful girl. that’s you laurence.

iggy pop

18. I love my wife. My wife is dead

In June of 1945, Arline Feynman, the wife of influential physicist Richard Feynman, died of tuberculosis. 16 months later, Feynman wrote the following letter, which remained sealed until after his death in 1988.

I adore you, sweetheart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.

It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.

But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.

When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.

I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

My darling wife, I do adore you.

I love my wife. My wife is dead.

PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address.

19. Ansel Adams Discovers Love

In 1936, legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams suffered a nervous breakdown. After a multi-month recovery, Adams penned the following letter to his best friend, Cedric Wright on 19 June 1937.
Dear Cedric,

A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that related to those who are loved and those who are real friends.

For the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what art should be.

Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things. Children are not only of flesh and blood — children may be ideas, thoughts, emotions. The person of the one who is loved is a form composed of a myriad mirrors reflecting and illuminating the powers and thoughts and the emotions that are within you, and flashing another kind of light from within. No words or deeds may encompass it.

Friendship is another form of love — more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting and acceptance of things like thunderclouds and grass and the clean granite of reality.

Art is both love and friendship, and understanding; the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of Things, it is more than kindness which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the inter-relations of these.

I wish the thundercloud had moved up over Tahoe and let loose on you; I could wish you nothing finer.


20. Steinbeck on Love

In November of 1958, acclaimed author John Steinbeck received a letter from his eldest son Thom who was attending boarding school at the time. Thom had met a young girl named Susan and believed he was falling in love with her. He asked his dad for advice, and Steinbeck wrote back the following.
Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



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