Monday, 28 October 2013

Make your soul grow

In 2006, a group of students at Xavier High School in New York City were given an assignment by their English teacher, Ms. Lockwood, that was to test their persuasive writing skills: they were asked to write to their favourite author and ask him or her to visit the school. It’s a measure of his ongoing influence that five of those pupils chose Kurt Vonnegut, the novelist responsible for, amongst other highly-respected books, Slaughterhouse-Five; sadly, however, he never made that trip. Instead, he wrote a wonderful letter. He was the only author to reply.

(Huge thanks to Michael LiVigni, headmaster of Xavier High School, for his help and permission to feature this letter. Thanks, also, to the Estate of Kurt Vonnegut. This letter can also be found in the More Letters of Note book, which can now be found on the shelves of all respectable, well-stocked bookshops. More info and reviews can be found here.)

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you're Count Dracula.

Here's an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don't do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don't tell anybody what you're doing. Don't show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what's inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Book

Dear All,

After what seems like decades, the GORGEOUS Letters of Note book will be available to buy in all sensible UK shops this Thursday (24th)—info and photos here. Those who ordered the special edition via Unbound: as mentioned in the email you hopefully received the other week, yours will arrive on your doorsteps mid-November looking wonderful and a little different to the one pictured above. Incidentally, that collectible edition can still be bought at the Unbound website.

This Wednesday (24th) at 6:30pm, I'll be at Waterstones Piccadilly giving a talk/having a chat with Simon Garfield—author of the fantastic, highly recommended new book, To the Letter—on the subject of letters. It should be a great evening. The book will also be available to buy. For info about tickets, click here.

Finally, I'm delighted to say that Letters of Note will be published in the US on May 6th, 2014, courtesy of Chronicle Books. More info as I get it.

Questions can be directed towards

Huge thanks,


P.S. This website will be back to normal, regularly updated, in a couple of weeks.

Friday, 18 October 2013

I am there in the sunset

There are more than 90,000 people buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, a beautiful and sprawling garden cemetery in Massachusetts that was first opened in 1831. Beside one of the graves sits the following letter, written by a lady to the love she left behind.

Much needed transcript follows. Larger image here.

Huge thanks to Rosie.

(Kindly submitted by Rosie.)

My Sweet Sumner,

I am very sorry that I had to go, it was simply my time. You were always the stronger of us. I could never had held the tiller for you as you did for me in such dark and ravaging seas. In my days of passage you were, as I knew you would be, perfect.

I have left the stage but I will never leave you. I am in a thousand places that will always be ours. Look for me in the sunsets, the ones that marry the light of a yawning day to the bright pink billowed clouds of a western sky. These are my sunsets not yours. Live my sweet Sumner, live with every ounce of love that you still have to give. Do not question this hunger that still rides within your warm and pounding heart.

If you get lonely just look for me. I am there in the sunset, listen closely and I will whisper my blessing.

Forever Your Valentine,