Kathy Zadrozny and Donovan Beeson, designers of 16 Sparrows stationery, sold their paper goods online and at markets where—according to Beeson—they started hearing people say, “I love writing letters—no one writes letters anymore!”
Around that time, Zadrozny was interning at the Newberry Library, archiving the Polish Women’s Alliance archive. The old-timey feel of the ephemera and the idea of a members’ group inspired Zadrozny and Beeson to start Letter Writers Alliance.
Connecting its first two pen pals in 2007, the members-only group costs $2 to enroll, and now boasts more than 1,500 members. Interested scribblers can sign up, funnily enough, online at 16sparrows.com/LWA. Participants receive free vintage-looking stationery downloads and get hooked up with a pen pal. A password-protected blog ruminates on letter writing and tells members how to get started penning mail.
The duo also helms a free craft evening called Mail Art Monthly at Lincoln Park stationery store Greer. The second Thursday of the month, folks can stop by, drink wine, buy or bring paper, and use provided typewriters to write letters or make mail art. Mail art is connected with the performative 1960s Fluxus art movement. “More often than not, mail art refers to a decorative envelope,” Beeson says.
“We’re not anti e-mail,” Beeson remarks. “But it’s so much fun to connect through the mail. It’s tangible, someone touched it. It’s important enough to plan.”
Beeson, who writes around a dozen letters a week and creates her own mail art, says she often fields questions from potential letter writers, from “Who do I write?” to “Where do I buy a stamp in France?” Here are some tips to get you started.
- First things first: You’ll want to date your letters. “It lets people know when you wrote it—you might mail it a few days later,” says Beeson, maintaining that slowness can be a cathartic part of letter writing. It also gives your elephantine texting hands some practice.
- Now who to write? Sounds strange but, Beeson claims, at Mail Art Monthly it’s a common question. She recommends family members as a good place to start.
- The second question she often receives: What do I write? “Do what we call ‘snapshot,’ ” Beeson says. “Channel your senses—hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting—at the immediate moment of letter writing.”
- A few no-nos: Don’t use half the stationery to apologize for why you haven’t written in so long. Refrain from using a computer to generate sympathy or thank-you notes. (Duh.)
- At Mail Art Monthly, Beeson shows ways to soup up an envelope, a space that people often leave bare in order to ensure a letter gets where it’s going. “One of the fun things is to see how far you can push it.”
- Push it, but clearly write out your zip code. It gets scanned by an automated system and sorted accordingly. And rather than stewing over Chicago’s subpar postal service, get to know your primary postal carrier. It might help him realize when the automated presorting system makes a mistake with your mail.
- Be creative with stationery. Beeson has seen letters scrawled on an airsick bag, a paper towel and a dryer sheet. She believes, “it’s a gift—a gift of your time.”
The next free Mail Art Monthly takes place at Greer, 1657 North Wells Street (16sparrows.com/LWA) on Thursday 9, 7–9pm.