After scattering anonymous love letters throughout New York City in 2010, Hannah Brencher has written more than 400 love letters to strangers, and in 2011 Brencher created moreloveletters.com with the mission of inspiring individuals to do just that — write more love letters. Since then, the site has helped send over 125,000 letters to people in need. Here, we talk to the postal pioneer about the beauty of handwritten correspondence, Toni Morrison, and the similarities between a letter and a first date.
Describe your work and its connection with the post.
I began writing and leaving “love letters” all across New York City about a year and a half ago. Gradually, I began receiving letter requests from people all over the world. As I wrote more and more letters to complete strangers, I realized that the world could really benefit from an organization that kept this irreplaceable handwritten practice alive. We take letter requests, mail handwritten notes and bundle together handwritten love letters for people in need, all while leaving love letters across the world for others to find and delight in.
When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
I think the interest has always been there. I am very much a fan of social media, though; all the things that some people are quick to say “ruin” the fates of snail-mailing. I don’t handwrite letters and drop them into the mailbox because it is more efficient. People still engage in letter writing because it is an art form more than anything. It is now turned into a hobby that we must choose to keep alive. I have an interest in keeping that passion for letter writing aflame, not because it means stationery or stamps stick around longer, but because it means we are still spending time on one another in a world where we move from thing to thing so quickly.
Why do you enjoy writing about letters?
I enjoy writing letters because you know it will never be meaningless correspondence. People always delight in letters. People are always taken aback by letters. I don’t pack a letter with the same things I would deliver in a text message. Letters, to me, are the sacred space for all the things that lay unsolved on our hearts and all the things we wish we could figure out or fix with the stroke our pens.
What is your favorite step in the process of written correspondence?
Honestly, the waiting. That sounds crazy. But, once upon a time, I had a professor who told us how she and her husband fell in love with one another through writing love letters. She said that she fell in love during the gap times… during the waiting. It’s something that my generation will never have, especially when we keep grabbing at more instantaneous things.
If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
I’d take Toni Morrison up as a pen pal any day. Ever since I started reading her, I’ve found solace in her words. They are the kinds of words you want to turn into teepees and huts and make shelter out of them. I would love, more than anything, to get those kinds of words in an envelope one day. I’d wait by the mailbox for those words, undoubtedly.
To whom do you most often write?
My best friend. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and we are just learning how fast all of life is. There is rarely that time to sit down and talk about every little thing and she isn’t the kind I want to leave hanging in a text. So we write to one another. We have been for years. I think it makes our friendship stronger, too.
Can you describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received?
It is sad to say it, but the letter I remember the most was from my mother. I was in college at the time, a freshman. Her mother (my grandmother) had just passed away and she was having a hard time with all of it. I remember opening this letter up in the middle of my campus Post Office and thinking I had met my mother for the first time in that letter. It was so raw. So real and so unabashed with all it said. I think it was all the things she couldn’t say in person, but it was so heartbreakingly beautiful. It would have never had the same effect on me if it were an email. I don’t think she would have ever confessed all of her sadness in anything but letter form. I still have that letter and keep it close.
What makes your correspondence distinct?
I like to handcraft the stationery a lot of the time. I always say that it is nice to dress the letter up as if it were going on a first date. Appearance is key. I don’t write letters if I am in a hurry, the penmanship will be cruddy and the whole thing will be a waste.
What do you see in the future of handwritten correspondence?
I think soon down the line that handwritten correspondence will be an art rather than a necessity, it already almost is. It will be something delicate that we do to really show someone how we care. Even now, with running this love letter organization, we see tons of people coming to us having not written a letter in years. They get nostalgic over it. I think letter writing is slipping from our fingers, but those who love it, those who adore it, will keep doing it. And it will be beautiful, as beautiful as when it first began. And no matter how much technology we have at our fingertips, I don’t think anything can ever surpass that in beauty, the chance to sit down and write to someone else in this world and use a pen to let them see pieces of your soul.