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Letters of Note
June 7, 2011 5:47 PM   Subscribe

In 1971 a children's librarian in Troy, Michigan wrote dozens of letters to various celebrities and political leaders and asked them to send back inspirational messages to the children. Ninety-seven of them wrote back.
posted by gman (33 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
These are great, but goddamn I really wish they weren't all pdfs and it was possible to view more than one at a time and not download them.
posted by smoke at 5:59 PM on June 7, 2011


Dr. Seuss's letter is beautiful and inspiring.
Isaac Asimov's letter is nerdy and sincere.

You can practically smell the stench coming off of Spiro Agnew's.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:05 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ooh, I missed Vincent Price's letter! It's not as spine-chilling as I would have hoped, but it's very nice.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:08 PM on June 7, 2011


These are great, but goddamn I really wish they weren't all pdfs and it was possible to view more than one at a time and not download them.

Count your blessings... it might have ended up being a bloated Flash driven deal.
posted by crapmatic at 6:13 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I liked P.E.T.'s letter.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:26 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


These are great, but goddamn I really wish they weren't all pdfs and it was possible to view more than one at a time and not download them.

The letters are also available on the library's Flickr account.
posted by grapefruit at 6:37 PM on June 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wow, Prime Minister Trudeau was all poetical and stuff.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:42 PM on June 7, 2011


Also, I didn't realize Neil Armstrong's letter was 2 pages long, and initially read only the 2nd page.

The shorter version was much better.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:45 PM on June 7, 2011


If you were to repeat this exercise today I doubt there would be so much of a preponderance of humanist and democratic sentiment. Yes, Agnew mentions the bible but the letter is otherwise completely unobjectionable.

Not one mention so far of how libraries are the socialist product of theft-by-taxation and the books are the work of elitist god-deniers.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:57 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Saul Alinsky's letter is pretty amazing.
posted by blucevalo at 7:13 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you were to repeat this exercise today I doubt there would be so much of a preponderance of humanist and democratic sentiment.

If you were to repeat this exercise today, the governor of Michigan would probably respond by having his minions take over the town and shut down the library.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:13 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Saul Alinsky's letter is pretty amazing.

I found Saul Alinsky's letter to be pretty offensive, actually. You respond to a request for a letter to children about books by insulting the town they live in and (basically) their parents? That's pretty amazing, but not in a good way.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:20 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Holy cow, that letter coming from the Pope's office is more bureaucratic and stiff than most anything else in that list.
posted by crapmatic at 7:23 PM on June 7, 2011


I wonder what her response rate was. I can't see anywhere where it states the total number of letters written. I also wonder at what she sent. Did she write unique letters to each or did she fire off a boilerplate request for a reply?

I write a lot of people both famous and not. My response rate is about 30% overall. Higher for politicians than regular folk, but still I get a lot for the no response pile.

I feel bad because I was born in 1970 and I don't know many of these people.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:30 PM on June 7, 2011


It struck me as I was browsing how remarkably few women there were among the letter writers (and how remarkably few of these once notable people I recognize).
posted by ocherdraco at 8:06 PM on June 7, 2011


I would have loved reading E. B. White's as a kid hiding out in the library on a rainy afternoon.
posted by Lina Lamont at 8:09 PM on June 7, 2011


I like E.B. White giving a guide to finding what you want in a library, not just saying "Oh, gawrsh, it's fun!"
posted by ocherdraco at 8:09 PM on June 7, 2011


I am both surprised and not surprised at all that Vincent Price had excellent penmanship.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:14 PM on June 7, 2011


I liked John Burns, and E.B. White's. Thanks so much for posting these. They're wonderful.
posted by zarq at 8:56 PM on June 7, 2011


Wow, these are great. Saul Alinsky sounds like a total douche though. Who would write that to kids?
posted by serazin at 9:13 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Saul Alinsky's letter is pretty amazing.

Oops, hadn't seen this comment when I posted. Funny.
posted by serazin at 9:14 PM on June 7, 2011


Pearl Bailey's letter made me feel all warm inside.
posted by dr_dank at 9:15 PM on June 7, 2011


You respond to a request for a letter to children about books by insulting the town they live in and (basically) their parents?

Actually, now that I see the part about "the passion of life which I am sure is not in Troy, Michigan" (didn't see that the first time), yeah, it was a pretty churlish letter.
posted by blucevalo at 9:38 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you so much for this post, it's so incredibly uplifting.

I had an aunt who regularly corresponded with E.B. White, and being the only cousin with any interest in reading whatsoever, I ended up with many of her old books of his that he had signed. I grew up reading those hardcover editions of Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan.

Reading that letter he wrote has me choked up a bit because she told me the exact same thing.

Libraries are your friend. Smart kids can usually find some refuge. Don't be afraid to read.
posted by Sphinx at 9:42 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know, but I don't think Saul Alinsky's letter is that bad. He is trying to say don't get caught up in a mundane rut of a suburban life, explore and do something exciting. The only thing about his letter that is surprising to me is his willingness to say it so directly.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:52 PM on June 7, 2011


It's so hostile toward a town where he'd probably never been. Regular people's regular lives have value too! It's not like the original Troy was some awesome place to live. Who wouldn't prefer a little stability over having your city torched by a bunch of crazy Greeks?
posted by serazin at 10:21 PM on June 7, 2011


The only thing about his letter that is surprising to me is his willingness to say it so directly.

Well, I was thinking that at first as well, but then I decided I agreed with the idea that only a curmudgeon would write that to kids. But then again, this was 1971, and that kind of sentiment was almost de rigueur back then -- I mean, Malvina Reynolds was pretty much saying the same thing about Daly City that Saul Alinsky was about Troy, albeit a bit less bluntly, and how many kids heard that song growing up? If the same thing had been written by, say, George Carlin, we wouldn't be all up in his grill about it. But what do I know?

I still think Alinsky's response was preferable to Julian Bond's breezy "I don't have time for your little library project" note or all the pretend-polite notes from secretaries who said their bosses were far too important and busy to be bothered with some library in podunky little Troy.
posted by blucevalo at 10:27 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


We wouldn't be all up in Kurt Vonnegut's grill about it either.
posted by blucevalo at 10:29 PM on June 7, 2011


Not one mention so far of how libraries are the socialist product of theft-by-taxation

Don't look at me. I think Ayn Rand had a tad too much tunnel vision. I count education and healthcare each equally vital to national security as any from courts, cops, and grunts.
posted by Ardiril at 11:18 PM on June 7, 2011


Two favorites are Walter Havinghurst's beautifully written letter from Miami University and Welthy Fisher's long jewel from India which both quoted Emily Dinkinson and told an Indian folk tale. Dr. Fisher also recounted their project of creating books to supply a large agricultural part of India. Given the opportunity to ask for the kind of books they wanted Literacy House to provide, they asked for books to help improve their farming, sacred texts, and stories about cinema.
posted by Anitanola at 11:58 PM on June 7, 2011


Not one mention so far of how libraries are the socialist product of theft-by-taxation and the books are the work of elitist god-deniers.

Well, this library, in a very educated, once affluent community was scheduled to close this summer, along with a nature center, historical village, community center, etc.
posted by NorthernLite at 11:35 AM on June 8, 2011


Who did Alinsky imagine "huddle in their little split-levels"? The elite? Robber Barons" Or working class and middle class families who pay taxes that support things like public libraries?

Rank arrogance on his part- and no surprise, either.
posted by TSOL at 1:28 PM on June 8, 2011


Actually, now that I see the part about "the passion of life which I am sure is not in Troy, Michigan" (didn't see that the first time), yeah, it was a pretty churlish letter.

So I take it you have not been to Troy, then.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:55 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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