Posted inEditor's Pick

‘Yours Lovingly’: A Reading List About Letters and Pen Pals

Mike Dang | Longreads | August 27, 2014 | words

A young woman exchanges letters with a Hollywood director and writer. A man writes to a convicted killer. Fan letters to a troubled country star. Here are six stories about the letters we write to one another.

Posted inNonfiction, Reading List

‘Yours Lovingly’: A Collection of Stories About Writing Letters

A man writes to a convicted killer. Fan letters to a troubled country star. Letters by parents. Here are five stories about the letters we write to one another.

A man writes to a convicted killer. Fan letters to a troubled country star. Letters by parents. Here are five stories about the letters we write to one another.

1. “Please Don’t Stay Long.” (Eva and Mark Raphael, Brick, Winter 2014)

Excerpts from love letters written by a couple in 1928, who corresponded between London and Łódź:

My boy, my darling what two silly children we are, to part willingly and condemn ourselves to this state! How good, that this month has fewer days! You know I forgot about Nora’s birthday on the 23rd. I can’t forgive myself. I am writing to your parents. I did not know the address, till you sent it.

Yours lovingly Eva

2. “How a Convicted Killer Became My Friend.” (Gary Rivlin, Mother Jones, June 4, 2013)

The writer on his friend Tony Davis, a middle-aged man who was convicted of killing a 13-year-old boy when he was 18:

I first met Tony Davis in the early 1990s, when I was a young reporter for an Oakland-based alternative weekly. The city was a hot spot in the nation’s crack epidemic, and turf warfare had sent its homicide rate soaring. I wanted to put a human face on the issue of teens killing teens, which is how I met Tony, who was two years into an 18-to-life sentence for Kevin Reed’s murder. That shooting would become the focus of my 1995 book, Drive-By.

We kept in touch, and somewhere along the way, Tony ceased to be my subject and became my friend. Over the years, we have exchanged probably a couple hundred letters and shared countless phone calls. Inmates sometimes ask him about the white man whose picture is on his cell wall. ‘He’s like the only real best friend that I’ve had in years,’ Tony tells them.

3. “I Was A Love-Letter Ghostwriter.” (Bonnie Downing, The Awl, Jan. 30, 2014)

The writer on working on an art piece called the “Love Letter Project,” in which she ghostwrote love letters for strangers:

I listened until he was finished talking. Then I arranged the sentences he’d spoken on the page. It was more like transcribing than writing.

“I will never in my life not regret that we didn’t work things out. I will never let go. I don’t want to.”

4. “Dear Charlie.” (Joe Hagan, Oxford American, Jan. 7, 2014)

Joe Hagan stumbles onto old fan mail sent to 1970s country-R&B star Charlie Rich. The fans share their most intimate secrets with a musician who had his own troubled life:

Tara’s confession to Charlie Rich, a major country star that year, was among forty-two others I discovered in the home of a woman who produced Rich in the 1960s. Unread for nearly forty years, mixed in with yellowing newspaper clips and old drink coasters from a Las Vegas revue, they were the last known remnants of the Charlie Rich Fan Club. Variously handwritten, typed up, set on stationery and notebook paper, the stash contained the intimate pleas and declarations of fans who sought communion with the star known as “The Silver Fox.”

5. “How I Met My Dead Parents.” (Anya Yurchyshyn, Buzzfeed, April 18, 2013)

The writer gains a new perspective on who her parents were after examining old photos and letters they left behind after they died:

As I worked on my blog, I read these and similar letters again and again, and wondered how the man I thought my father was could have written these words, words that are so romantic that I melt on my mother’s behalf when I read them. How could my father have been the person that I knew, the person I was happy to have dead, and the person in these letters, a person who was articulate, generous, and so, so loving? And how could my mother, who never seemed very happy with him, love him so much in return? Didn’t she know he was a monster?

Photo: Liz West