I have always been a letter writer. Real letters, preferably hand written and enclosed in an envelope with a carefully selected stamp, are to me some of the best gifts that a person can give. Real letters allow people to delve more deeply into their views about life. Real letters where people get to know aspects of each other in a thoughtful exchange, an unfolding (literally), a private conversation can reveal some of our deepest thoughts, reckless ponderings, memories, a sharing of information that might prove vital to who/what we are becoming as human beings.
Historically we often have only known the truth (or more of it) about women's lives through their letters as often the women in question were not included in the history books. They didn't make the evening news (not their good works, anyway). The biographies that I have read recently have been able to be written only because of the individual's letters which reveals to us their minds, their hearts, their intentions, their untold accomplishments and aspects of their relationships to others.
I read the book Firebrand and the First Lady this summer which was simultaneously the story of a written correspondence between two women, one very well known (Eleanor Roosevelt) and one lesser known to most (Pauli Murray) and it also served as a biography of Murray and her incredibly inspiring life and accomplishments. Murray, over the course of several decades helped to inform Eleanor Roosevelt's work, her national radio discussions, her influence during the Roosevelt Administrations, making her awareness more relevant and social justice oriented. I was so excited to learn about Pauli Murray and the incredible acts of bravery that she performed throughout her life, as well as her deeply spiritual explorations, her accomplishments as a published poet and writer, as a leader in law, as an organizer for various social justice causes including unfair labor practices, wrongful/racially motivated death row verdicts, segregation laws. She accomplished many firsts and should, by all rights, be a household name in America. But she was poor, African American and a lesbian so many of her accomplishments were not mainstream news. I highly recommend the book that will be out soon in paperback. If it were not for the letters between those two ladies her story may not have been told as completely as this book offered.
I have recently begun to write letters again, after a few years of letting that practice, that had been so important to me for several decades, slide. I want my young adult nieces and cousins to understand the power that they hold...a letter as a gift, as an opening, a document of their lives, their growth, their power.