By **Angela Chen**
Luddites, rejoice. Letters of Note is a glimpse into the lives of famous historical figures, and an homage to their low-tech means of expression. The site is a collection of notable correspondence—letters, notes, faxes and memos that have shaped culture across time and space. Every post has pictures of the original correspondence, so we can see Iggy Pop’s cramped cursive and Conan O’Brien’s sloppy print, as well as transcriptions of the content (so we can actually read Iggy Pop’s cramped cursive and Conan O’Brien’s sloppy print). Think of the site as the highbrow cousin of the popular tumblrs dedicated to Don Draper looking sad and Paula Deenisms.
One of my favorite posts is a heartbreaking letter from Kurt Vonnegut to his family, dated December 1944. He says, “I’ve been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler’s last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium,” and the resulting story details the real-life saga that later became the inspiration for Slaughterhouse Five.
I’m also partial to an angry note from Mark Twain to a bogus salesman (“The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet”), and a translated, ninth-century apology from a local official who had become drunk at a party (“I was ready to sink into the earth from shame”). And of course, there’s also the more ironic, like the memo sent from the creators of the South Park movie to the MPAA over a rating disagreement (“We left in the scenes with Cartman’s mom and the horse as per our agreement. This is one joke we really want to fight for.”).
With its scans of typewritten letters and quick memos, Letters of Note is a reminder that letter writing has endured for centuries, and a warning that it would be a shame for tweets to be our only historical record. At times sad, at times elated and (very often) at times angry, Letters of Note collects slices of the past.
Angela Chen is an editorial intern at Guernica. Read her last recommendation here.