In our current technological age, the lure of nostalgia seems more potent that ever. Just as laptops have meant that many writers now long for the romance of the typewriter, so too, in the age of email, has the art of letter writing become a beautifully nostalgic endeavour.

Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire sought to revive ‘the lost art of letter writing’ with their Women of Letters events held every month since early 2010. These literary afternoons feature five women who read aloud a letter ‘to’ a particular whimsical theme – from ‘The Night I’d Rather Forget’ to ‘The Moment It All Fell Apart’ to ‘The Photo I Wish Had Never Been Taken.’ But of course, these were never really letters – they were, more truly, speeches, and the thrill of a Women of Letters event was the moment when a writer or artist held the room, where their pace, their rhythms, their language spilled out into the audience and you knew that no-one else but those sitting with you at that moment, in that venue, had witnessed it.

The special nature of a letter is that it can be held, returned to and treasured, in a way that the fleeting transience of a speech cannot. This book completes the nostalgia of the Women of Letters events – allowing us to revisit the variously amusing, affecting, but above all intensely personal letters from each of the events last year.

There are some very funny pieces here – such as Loreli Vashti’s hilariously tame rebellion against her parents over an egg, and Georgia Fields’s adoring letter to Mariah Carey, in ‘The Letter I Wish I’d Written’:

I heard the opening synth chimes of ‘Dreamlover’, followed by your trademark whistle tone, and I was instantly captivated. How easily you would jump from octave to octave, and then roll down the notes like some kind of agile mountain goat upon a jagged but beautiful mountain scene.

I loved Romy Hoffman’s winding, chaotic letter to the best present she ever received, and Anna Krien’s piece on her (lack of a) favourite pin up. Particularly affecting was Michelle Law’s letter to her most treasured possession: ‘Dear Hair, I’m losing you again. Every time I pull a comb through you, I find a constellation of bald patches scattered across my scalp,’ and Megan Washington’s dedication to the city of Melbourne, and the crack in the wall of her bedroom, which counts down the days until she must leave the city:

Every few months I look up and notice, with a kind of casual surprise, that it has grown. […] In this way, in this style, I have always known that my time in this town will be over when that crack in the wall reaches the floor. I believe it to be a very crude memento mori – a timeline, snaking inexorably down the wall. Insisting that time is passing, that everything is changing, insisting that I turn and face entropy and impermanence, and insisting, gently, that eventually I will leave.

Included also are pieces from the Men of Letters special event, written ‘To the Woman Who Changed My Life’ with writing by John Safran, Bob Ellis, Eddie Perfect and (my favourite piece) Tim Rogers:

I have almost never done a damn worthwhile thing in my life while drunk – which raises the question: why am I full of Armagnac now? I have, while drunk, pulled gymnastically assured shapes as work, and felt hurled by the turbulence of romance and thrilled by the barbaric intent of that myopic concentration an afternoon spent drunk can afford. Nothing worthwhile. But I kissed you first when I was drunk.

The lovely thing about a letter is that it allows us to get a sense of the person with the style and lilt of their handwriting – and the Women of Letters book nods to this in the small touch of having each author sign their name at the end of each correspondence.

This book is worthwhile not simply because of the often beautiful writing within its pages, but because it showcases the wealth of incredible female (and a few male!) writers and artists we have in Australia, both established and emerging. There are so few outlets to collate the work of such a wonderfully eclectic mix of writers, politicians, singers, comedians, actors et al. I look forward to many more volumes.

Women of Letters, curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire, is out now through Penguin Viking. All royalties from the sale of the book go to Edgar’s Mission animal rescue shelter. 

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