What did you say? I can’t hear you…

On June 10th of 1967, Spencer Tracy — a Hollywood star who was nominated for nine Best Actor Oscars during his career, two of which he won — passed away after suffering a heart attack at the home he shared with his partner, Katharine Hepburn. Eighteen years later, Hepburn wrote him a letter. The clip above shows Katharine

You crack dealing piece of trash

When, in 2007, Cleveland councillor Michael Polensek heard that local 18-year-old constituent Arsenio Winston had been arrested for selling crack cocaine to an undercover officer, he went straight for the jugular and wrote him the following furious letter — a letter which soon made far more headlines than the crime itself due to Polensek’s complete lack of

Why Explore Space?

In 1970, a Zambia-based nun named Sister Mary Jucunda wrote to Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, then-associate director of science at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in response to his ongoing research into a piloted mission to Mars. Specifically, she asked how he could suggest spending billions of dollars on such a project at a time when so many children were starving on

The Great Sex Letter

On March 7th of 1947, a drunken Neal Cassady — the man on whom Dean Moriarty in On the Road would later be based — wrote the following letter to his friend, Jack Kerouac, and described two recent sexual encounters. Cassady’s uninhibited, free-flowing prose was a huge influence on Kerouac’s writing and this letter in

This is my last visit

In 1966, a few months after first being serialised in The New Yorker, Truman Capote‘s genre-defining non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood, the true story of a quadruple murder in 1959 that Capote investigated and the subsequent trial he attended, was published to huge acclaim. Capote’s book was a sensation and is still one of the

To Hell with Hitler

In 1940, a year after fleeing Nazi Germany and setting up home in New York, the writer of the following letter attempted to enlist with the U.S. Armed Forces; however, his application was denied for one incredible reason: his uncle was Adolf Hitler. He wasn’t deterred, and two years later, a few months after his

You are truly wonderful

Since she passed away last month, I’ve heard numerous stories of letters written by Nora Ephron — generous letters which were, more often than not, heartwarming, positive, and laced with humour. Below is just one example, written in 1994 to Elizabeth Wurtzel in response to a request to supply a blurb for Prozac Nation, the

Whatever you like doing, do it!

Since joining Pixar 22 years ago, award-winning animator Pete Docter has been influential in bringing some of the studio’s most successful movies to the big screen, including Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Up — the last two of which he also directed. In 2009, Martin Kelsey — a teacher at South Valley Middle School in Liberty

The proverbial “really good” sci-fi movie

On March 31st of 1964, Stanley Kubrick initiated contact with author Arthur C. Clarke by way of the following letter, in which the filmmaker declared an interest in the two collaborating to produce, in his words, “the proverbial ‘really good’ science-fiction movie.” Clarke was immediately keen — so much so that just three weeks later, on April 22nd,

This is my son. He speaks Greek.

In 1957, at 18 years of age, future billionaire and founder of CNN, Ted Turner, informed his father that he would be majoring in Classics after being inspired by a professor at Brown University. His father was furious to say the least, and responded to his son’s announcement with the following despairing letter — a letter which Ted

Tolstoy wasn’t Sendak, either

Mid-1961, as he prepared to illustrate one of Tolstoy’s books, 33-year-old Maurice Sendak wrote to his editor, the legendary Ursula Nordstrom, and expressed some doubts about his own capabilities as a writer. Her typically supportive and rousing response can be read below. Two years after this letter was written, Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are—edited by Nordstrom—was

Sure, go ahead

In February of 1945, James Thurber — much-loved New Yorker cartoonist and author of, most notably, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty — delivered, quite brilliantly, a playful jab to his attorney and friend, Morris Ernst, by way of the following letter — written in response to a request from the lawyer to reprint some of Thurber’s drawings in a forthcoming book. (Source:

You’ve got to sell your heart

Late-1938, eager to gain some feedback on her work, aspiring young author and Radcliffe sophomore Frances Turnbull sent a copy of her latest story to celebrated novelist and friend of the family, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Before long the feedback arrived, in the form of the somewhat harsh but admirably honest reply seen below. (Source: F.

John is an admirable name

In February of 1892, after one of his plays was mauled by a drama critic, Oscar Wilde wrote the following letter to the publication’s editor and complained — not about the review itself, but about the critic’s insistence on naming him “John Wilde.” (Source: Oscar Wilde: A Life in Letters; Image: Oscar Wilde, via.) 16 Tite

I’m unhappy, hope you’re unhappy too

Here we have the first letter sent by 21-year-old Morrissey to his Scottish pen-pal, Robert Mackie in 1980, in response to a personal ad in Sounds magazine. His note was written on the back of a James Dean photo (James Dean was of course the subject of a book written by Morrissey around that time), and

Regarding your dam complaint

In December of 1997, as a result of an official complaint from a neighbour, a Michigan resident named Stephen Tvedten received, indirectly, a stern warning from the region’s Department of Environmental Quality in the form of a letter—a letter in which he was given six weeks to remove two “unauthorized” and “hazardous” dams from the

let me begin by not beginnin

Early-January of 1964, at which point his third studio album was soon-to-be released, 22-year-old Bob Dylan wrote the following letter to Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen — both founding editors of Broadside, a highly influential underground magazine of the period — and spoke of, amongst other things, his recent rise to fame, the money and guilt that came with it, and

Think always of me

In the early hours of October 16th, 1793, nine months after the execution of her husband, Louis XVI, the 37-year-old former Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, wrote the following tear-stained farewell letter to her sister-in-law, Madame Elisabeth, and her children. Just eight hours later, Marie Antoinette was beheaded. Her letter never reached Elisabeth. Transcript and

Letter to a Young Poet

In 1902, a 19-year-old aspiring poet named Franz Kappus sent a letter and some of his work to the hugely influential Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, and politely asked for some feedback. Some months later, the following invaluable response reached Kappus, and it didn’t end there — over the course of the next 5 years, Rilke continued

Oh my ass burns like fire!

When he wasn’t busy composing some of the most beautiful music ever to seduce the human ear, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could often be found writing shockingly crude letters to his family. The fine example below (translated by Robert Spaethling) was penned to Mozart’s 19-year-old cousin and possible love interest,

Must be raining in this old bunkhouse

Shortly after renowned “cowboy artist” Charles Russell passed away in 1926, his friend of many years, the popular American entertainer, Will Rogers, wrote him the following farewell letter. It was sent to Charles’s widow, Nancy. (Source: Dear Wit; Image: Horse of the Hunter, by Charles Russell, via.) Dear Charley, I bet you hadn’t been up there three days

The novel is a wonder

On October 27th of 1924, 28-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald sent a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, along with an early draft of his new novel, tentatively titled The Great Gatsby. That missive, and Perkins’s delighted but constructively critical response, can be enjoyed below. Fitzgerald took his editor’s suggestions on board, immediately made some major revisions to

A gap-toothed & hoary-headed ape

In January of 1874, on hearing that fellow poet Ralph Waldo Emerson had described him as “a perfect leper, and a mere sodomite” in an interview, Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote the following letter to the New York Tribune and delivered one of the greatest ripostes I’ve ever read. It was published in the paper the

Sex does not thrive on monotony

In the 1940s, at which point she — along with a collective of other writers that included her lover, Henry Miller — was earning $1 per page writing erotic fiction for the private consumption of an anonymous client, author Anaïs Nin wrote the following passionate letter to the “Collector” and made known her frustrations — frustrations caused by his repeated insistence

Cowboys must be deranged

In July of 1964, a reader named Marian Forer wrote the following letter to John G. Fuller, the editor of a popular column in Saturday Review magazine called “Trade Winds” that collated whimsical news items and thought-provoking anecdotes from all corners. Forer’s letter was later featured, in part, in the column.  (Source: Dear Wit.) Winnipeg, ManitobaCanada

Oh Christ, the cook is dead

In February of 1977, a well-meaning teacher named Stephen Gard wrote to Spike Milligan after reading Monty, the third installment of Spike’s memoirs which focused on his life as a soldier in World War II, and asked some questions about the book. Says Stephen: “My letter was written as a fan, but it did ask

We have listened long enough to the pessimists

In March of 1906, unable to preside over a public meeting of the Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind, deafblind activist and author Helen Keller instead sent the following stirring letter to her good friend, Mark Twain. On the day of the event, Twain, who was chairing the meeting in Keller’s absence, read her

Getting Star Trek on the air was impossible

In November of 1966, two months after the first Star Trek series premièred in the U.S., science fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote an article for TV Guide in which he complained about the numerous scientific inaccuracies found in science fiction TV shows of the day — Star Trek included. That show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, didn’t take kindly

Yours in distress, Alan

Alan Turing was a human being of exceptional intelligence — a mathematical genius — and worked as one of the leading code-breakers during World War II. He is also considered to be the “father of modern computing” thanks to his pioneering work in the field of computer science. In 1950, before the term “Artificial Intelligence” had been coined, he posed

I have now no further use for a birthday

In 1891, 8 years after his classic novel, Treasure Island, was first published in book-form, author Robert Louis Stevenson learned that the 12-year-old daughter of Henry Clay Ide — then U. S. Commissioner to Samoa, where Stevenson lived — was unhappy that her birthday fell on Christmas Day. Stevenson immediately hatched a charming plan, and soon sent

My mother declared my bedroom a disaster area

As one would expect, Ronald Reagan was the recipient of thousands of letters each month during his presidency–a mailbag so voluminous, in fact, that a gang of patient volunteers were tasked with opening them all on his behalf and passing him approximately 30 each week to read and respond to. This is just one example,

We’re sorry you’ve been misled

When released in 1979, Monty Python’s Life of Brian was instantly banned in a number of countries due its supposedly blasphemous content, and faced countless angry protests from incredibly disgusted people who, more often than not, hadn’t seen the film itself. In fact, so numerous were the written complaints that the Monty Python team had no

Steve, I’ve got news

In July of 1988, a lawyer named Becky Klemt (above, pictured in 1990) of law firm Pence & MacMillan in Laramie, Wyoming, contacted several California attorneys and asked for assistance in collecting some outstanding child support on behalf of her client — a lady whose husband, the debtor, had recently moved to Los Angeles. Six weeks later, by which

If I’m not a writer then I’m nothing

In October of 1949, while working in public relations at General Electric, 27-year-old aspiring writer Kurt Vonnegut sold his first story to Collier’s; just over a year later, he quit said job and began life as a freelance writer. The following two letters, both from Vonnegut, offer an intriguing glimpse into his mind during that period

Part of this world, part of another

In 1970, when originally offered the lead role in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory by director Mel Stuart, the great Gene Wilder accepted on one condition. “When I make my first entrance,” he explained, “I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After

They pay brisk money for this crap?

Writing to his agent, H. N. Swanson, in 1953, detective novelist Raymond Chandler takes a break from penning what would be his final novel, Playback, and parodies science fiction writing — a genre which, judging by the letter’s final sentence in particular, he had little time for. Also amusing is the appearance of something, or

I AM the boss

In 1970, three years after co-founding Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner hired 21-year-old Annie Liebovitz as a staff photographer; her work impressed, and in 1973 she was named “Chief Photographer” at the title. Nine years later, by which time the magazine had become widely read — thanks in some small part to Leibovitz’s numerous iconic cover shots — the following exchange

All of my friends were on the shelves above

Ray Bradbury was an outspoken supporter of libraries throughout his career, and the following letter to the assistant director of Fayetteville Public Library — in which he explains the race to write the novella upon which Fahrenheit 451 was eventually based — perfectly illustrates why. The letter was written in 2006 in response to a city-wide “Big Read,” in which Bradbury’s classic novel was

He’s here, living and vivid and unforgettable forever

On September 30th of 1955, less than a month before his most celebrated turn as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause graced the screens, 24-year-old James Dean died shortly after his Porsche collided with another car at high speed. His funeral was held nine days later in Fairmount, not far from the farm on which he

Mrs. Sinclair Lewis to you

In 1930, after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, author Sinclair Lewis began to receive a steady stream of fan mail, from all corners. One woman in particular wrote and offered to become his secretary, adding, “I’ll do everything for you—and when I say everything I mean everything.” The following brief letter was sent to

The spectacle sickened me

In July of 1905, after attending a performance of Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, renowned playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw wrote a wonderful letter of complaint to The Times. His grievance didn’t concern the opera itself, but rather an extravagantly dressed lady seated in his line of sight. The letter,

I am greatly troubled by what you say

In 1905, the “superintendent of the children’s department” at Brooklyn Public Library ordered that all copies of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn be removed from the room, due to their characters’ “coarseness, deceitfulness and mischievous practices.” Soon after, unhappy with the development, the librarian in charge of the “Department for the Blind,” Asa Don Dickinson, wrote

You are not lazy, and still you are an idler

Late-1850, Abraham Lincoln‘s step-brother, John D. Johnston, wrote to him and asked, yet again, for a loan with which to settle some debts. Said Johnston: I am dund & doged to Death so I am all most tired of Living, & I would all most swop my place in Heaven for that much money […]

Dear Einstein, Do Scientists Pray?

As one of the world’s great intellects and arguably the most famous of all scientists, Albert Einstein was regularly questioned about his views on religion. In January of 1936, a young girl named Phyllis wrote to Einstein on behalf of her Sunday school class and simply asked, “Do scientists pray?” Einstein soon replied. (This letter,

It has never got easier

In March of 1962, acclaimed author John Steinbeck wrote the following letter to Edith Mirrielees — a lady who, as his professor of creative writing at Stanford 40 years previous, had been an enormous influence on his development as a writer and, he later claimed, one of the few things he respected about the university. His fantastic, insightful letter

Love, Dad

In June of 1971, 26-year-old Michael Reagan married his 18-year-old fiancée in a beautiful ceremony that took place in Hawaii, but which sadly couldn’t be attended by his dad, the future President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. A few days before the ceremony, however, Michael did receive something invaluable that would be treasured for

The real heroes are the parents

In July of 1918, whilst serving as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I, Ernest Hemingway was seriously wounded in a mortar attack that resulted in both legs being “riddled” with shrapnel and a six month stay in a Milan hospital. Three months after the incident, as he recuperated, 19-year-old Hemingway wrote the following letter

Ought women not to be abolished altogether?

On March 28th of 1912, an eminent bacteriologist named Almroth Wright wrote a lengthy, pompous letter to The Times in which he argued that women should not be allowed to vote, and in fact should be kept away from politics altogether, due to their supposed psychological and physiological deficiencies. Unsurprisingly his opinion generated many responses, the best

Thank you, Mr. Hitchcock

In March of 1962, Alfred Hitchcock took a break during filming of The Birds in Bodega Bay and visited a local school to greet the pupils. Soon after, the school’s principal wrote the following letter of thanks to the filmmaker, and described the visit’s positive effect on one particular child. Transcript follows. (Source: Hitchcock, Piece by Piece;

DO NOT be so bloody vulnerable

It was in 1935 that movie stars Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich first spoke, thanks to an unexpected phone call from Dietrich in which she complimented him on his starring role in The Scoundrel. For the next 38 years, until Coward’s death, they remained close friends and wrote regularly, the topic of discussion often Dietrich’s

The bulk of all human utterances is plagiarism

In 1892, deafblind author Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism after a short story of hers, named “The Frost King,” was identified as being extremely similar to Margaret Canby’s “Frost Fairies.” An investigation followed, as did a tribunal in which she was eventually acquitted. Amazingly, Keller was just 12 years of age at the time. A

stay away from microwaves

On July 22nd of 1992, during their famous joint tour with Metallica, Guns N’ Roses co-headlined at the Hoosier Dome in Axl Rose‘s home state of Indiana. They appeared on stage last, almost two hours after Metallica had finished their set, and were headed by an angry frontman. Two days later, a less-than-glowing review of

A pantomime Aslan would be blasphemy

December, 1959: C. S. Lewis writes the following letter to BBC producer Lance Sieveking and praises the recent radio adaptation of his Narnia story, The Magician’s Nephew. He then clearly states that he is “absolutely opposed” to the idea of a TV adaptation of the novels and that, to him, a pantomime Aslan would be “blasphemy.”

Iorz feixfuli, M. J. Yilz

In January of 1971, a gentleman named M. J. Shields wrote the wonderful letter seen below to The Economist, on the subject of spelling reform — an idea famously championed by George Bernard Shaw, who even funded, posthumously, the development of a new alphabet. It’s a brilliant, amusing letter and one which I have, I think, managed to

I refuse to be cheated out of my deathbed scene

In 1912, after she called him “the Old Maid of novelists” in a scathing review of his new book, Marriage, journalist and author Rebecca West met and fell in love with H. G. Wells. The often-explosive affair that resulted lasted for some months, until, in March of 1913, Wells — 26 years her senior and already a

Bill Hicks on Freedom of Speech

As an outspoken stand-up comedian with strong, unbending views on the most divisive of subjects, the late-Bill Hicks was no stranger to controversy during his all-too-brief career. In May of 1993, less than a year before he succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 32, a live recording of Hicks’ Revelations show was broadcast

Greetings Worm

From the pages of Diane Keaton‘s memoir, Then Again, come four brief and unsurprisingly entertaining letters from the inimitable Woody Allen. Says Keaton: I was his endearing oaf. He was my “White Thing.” […] We thrived on demeaning each other. His insights into my character were dead on and—duh!—hilarious. This bond remains the core of our

Forget your personal tragedy

In 1925, following publication of his magnum opus, The Great Gatsby, author F. Scott Fitzgerald began work on his fourth novel, Tender Is the Night—a tale about the troubled lives of Dick and Nicole Diver, a couple based largely on Gerald and Sara Murphy, a wealthy, popular couple who moved in the same social circles

American democracy will have disappeared

On May 2nd of 1940, a Reverend Leon M. Birkhead — National Director of “Friends of Democracy,” an organisation committed to combatting “anti-Semitic propaganda” — wrote to the author John Steinbeck with the following enquiry: I hope that you will not think I am impertinent, but our organization has had put up to it the problem of your nationality. You

God damn it, I split it so it will stay split

In January of 1947, renowned novelist Raymond Chandler wrote a letter to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, Edward Weeks, primarily with regard to the title of a piece he had written for the magazine which was ultimately published the next year, titled, “Oscar Night in Hollywood.” It is the latter half of this letter,

Illiterately yours

The following intro and genuine exchange of letters forms the dedication to Will Rogers‘ 1924 book, The Illiterate Digest. Image of Will Rogers via iCollector. “Most Books have to have an Excuse by some one for the Author, but this is the only Book ever written that has to have an Alibi for the Title,

Things will just get better and better

In June of 2010, the lead singer of Eels, Mark ‘E’ Everett, wrote a lovely letter of advice to his 16-year-old self. The missive features in the wonderful book, Dear Me, and can be read below. Transcript follows. (Source: Dear Me: More Letters to My 16-Year-Old Self; Image of “E” via Gonzai.) Transcript Chateau E

He has nothing left but his poker

In September of 1896, the head of the Atlantic City Railroad in New Jersey received the following letter of complaint from an unhappy local named A. T. Harris. Little else is known. (Source: The Oxford Book of Letters; Image via Wikimedia.) To the Superintendent, Atlantic City Railroad, Sept. 1896 Dear sir, On the 15th yore

He is called Mick Jagger

In April of 1962, 18-year-old Keith Richards wrote the following enthusiastic letter to his aunt, “Patty,” and described, amongst other things, an encounter some months previous that would ultimately change his life — the moment he met Mick Jagger for the first time since being childhood friends. Three months after the letter was written, “The

You must deliver marketable goods

Late-1914, an aspiring young writer named Max Fedder sent a copy of his manuscript, “A Journal of One Who Is to Die,” to Jack London, the author responsible for such works as The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and, most relevantly, Martin Eden — the bleak story of a young man battling to become a writer. The

Be Prepared

In March of 1861, renowned novelist Anthony Trollope sent the following letter to a Miss Dorothea Sankey. To this day, it’s unknown whether he was joking. It’s worth noting that Trollope remained married to the wife in question, Rose Heseltine. In fact, she also outlived him. (Source: The Letters of Anthony Trollope; Image: Anthony Trollope, via

I do not like scolding people

Author Katherine Mansfield and editor John Murry met in 1911 and had a turbulent relationship by anyone’s standards: by the time they wed in 1918, they had split several times and seen other people; indeed, the pattern continued through their marriage. Three years after marrying, Mansfield wrote a stern letter to fellow author Princess Elizabeth

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

In September of 1893, at 26 years of age, Beatrix Potter sent the following illustrated letter to Noel, the five-year-old son of her friend and former governess, Annie Moore. The letter contained a tale of four rabbits, and in fact featured the first ever appearance of Peter Rabbit; however it wasn’t until 1901, eight years later, that

C. S. Lewis on Writing

Considering he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, one of the most popular collections of children’s literature of all time, it’s no real surprise that C. S. Lewis received thousands of letters from youngsters during his career. What’s admirable is that he attempted to reply to each and every one of those pieces of fan mail,

Love is love, and there will never be too much

Back in 2000, a teenage Fiona Apple fan named Bill Magee decided to approach the singer after a gig and hand her a letter. In it, the 16-year-old spoke of his school’s gay-straight alliance — of which he was a member — and asked if she could possibly reply with a sentence or two in its support. The next week,

I am very real

In October of 1973, Bruce Severy — a 26-year-old English teacher at Drake High School, North Dakota — decided to use Kurt Vonnegut‘s novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, as a teaching aid in his classroom. The next month, on November 7th, the head of the school board, Charles McCarthy, demanded that all 32 copies be burned in the school’s furnace

You children write illiterate letters

In 1958, a schoolboy named Robert Leifert wrote to the author and humourist, James Thurber, and asked for some assistance with a school project. Sadly for Robert (or luckily for Robert, depending on your viewpoint) it seems he caught Thurber on a bad day, and before long the youngster was the proud owner of the following delightfully

His heart is not in his work

Before becoming a full-time author, Sherwood Anderson worked as a copy-writer for a Chicago-based advertising agency named Taylor Critchfield Co, and it wasn’t until 1918, by which time he was 41 years of age, that he was able to take the leap and devote himself to his craft. When it came to resigning from the

With all my heart and soul

On their fourth wedding anniversary in April of 1996, just eleven months after the riding accident that saw him paralysed from the neck down, Christopher Reeve‘s wife, Dana, gave him the following letter. They remained married until his death in 2004, by which point the Superman actor had lent his name to the American Paralysis

Your disgusted so-called father

In January of 1891, 20-year-old Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas met the man with whom he would soon fall in love — Oscar Wilde. On April 1st of that year, disgusted by his son’s homosexual relationship with Wilde, Bosie’s father, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, sent him the following threatening letter. Bosie famously responded to his

Things to worry about

When he wasn’t busy writing some of the most critically lauded and enduring novels of the 20th Century, The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald could often be found penning the most fascinating of letters to such famous characters as his good friend, Ernest Hemingway; editor extraordinaire, Maxwell Perkins; and his wife and fellow author,

Sorrow passes and we remain

In July of 1883, Henry James, the famed novelist responsible for writing, most notably, The Portrait of a Lady, received a worryingly emotional letter from Grace Norton, a friend of some years and successful essayist who, following a recent death in the family, had seemingly become depressed and was desperate for direction. James, no stranger

Intolerable Ignorance

Between the date of her death — January 22nd, 1901 — and her extravagant funeral a fortnight later, millions mourned as the body of Queen Victoria lay in state on the Isle of Wight. At some point during this lengthy period, disgusted at what he saw as an excessively long, out-of-touch “spectacle,” the great George Bernard

Respected Paternal Relative

In April of 1866, the future author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote the following letter to his father and expertly asked for some money. He was just 15 years of age at the time. (Source: The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Vol. I (1868-1880); Image: Robert Louis Stevenson, aged 15, via EdinPhoto.) 2 SULYARDE

E. B. White on the Free Press

Late-1975, Esquire magazine announced that a forthcoming 23-page article by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Harrison Salisbury, to be published in their February 1976 issue, had been sponsored by Xerox. After hearing of the arrangement, E. B. White — author of Charlotte’s Web and long-serving contributor to The New Yorker — wrote a letter to his local newspaper and voiced his disapproval. In the coming

I like words

In 1934, a New York copywriter by the name of Robert Pirosh quit his well-paid job and headed for Hollywood, determined to begin the career of his dreams as a screenwriter. When he arrived, he gathered the names and addresses of as many directors, producers and studio executives as he could find, and sent them

Butt-Head Astronomer

Late-1993, renowned astronomer Carl Sagan learnt that Apple’s forthcoming computer, the Power Macintosh 7100, had been given a codename of “Carl Sagan” — the joke being that they would sell “billions and billions.” This was mentioned in a MacWEEK article some time later, to which Sagan sent the following letter in response. Apple soon changed the

Scientifically yours

I think it’s safe to assume that after NASA successfully landed two rovers on Mars in January of 2004, the momentous event was quickly eclipsed by the following letter of congratulations, sent to the JPL days later by a certain Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his accident-prone assistant, Beaker. Note: Although the Spirit rover’s initial problems were overcome, it’s unknown

Remember the Ladies

As you read the following letter, in which Abigail Adams boldly asks her husband — future U.S. President, John Adams — to “remember the ladies” when drafting new laws or else fear rebellion from the female population, bear in mind that it was sent over 200 years ago, at the start of the American Revolutionary War — a time when women had very

I have no ancestors of that gifted people

In 1938, some months after the initial publication of The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien and his British publisher, Stanley Unwin, opened talks with Rütten & Loening, a Berlin-based publishing house who were keen to translate the novel for the German market. All was going well until, in July, they wrote to Tolkien and asked for proof of

1984 v. Brave New World

In October of 1949, a few months after publication of George Orwell‘s dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, he received a letter from fellow author Aldous Huxley, a man who, 17 years previous, had seen his own nightmarish vision of society published in the form of Brave New World, a book also now considered a classic. Having recently finished reading

The Empire State Building

Early-1932, after seeing a photograph in the New York Times of the great Helen Keller at the top of the newly-opened Empire State Building, Dr. John Finley wrote to her and asked what she really “saw” from that height. Keller — famously both deaf and blind from a very early age — responded with the incredible

No Ovaries Removed

On April 28th of 1952, medical staff at the Cedars of Lebanon hospital in L.A. wheeled an extremely nervous Marilyn Monroe to surgery where she was to have her appendix removed. Some time later, with Monroe unconscious and the procedure about to begin, doctors pulled back her gown to find the following note taped to her stomach. It was

You will then know how to talke to me

In September of 1864, as the American Civil War approached its conclusion, a slave-turned-soldier named Spotswood Rice wrote the following furious letter to his former owner, Katherine Diggs, and sternly warned her that she would soon be seeing him again: he was returning to Missouri, together with a thousand-strong army of black soldiers, to rescue

A book is like a man

During the nine months of 1951 that saw him working on his novel, East of Eden, author John Steinbeck began each day of writing by penning, in his notebook, a brief letter to his editor and good friend, Pascal “Pat” Covici. Early-1952, with the book finished, Steinbeck wrote him a final letter — a dedication to Covici in

Will you please have his place raided?

In September of 1931, with the sale of alcohol still banned in the U.S. due to prohibition, a frustrated housewife named Mrs. Hillyer wrote the following letter to the Seattle Bureau of Prohibition. Transcript follows. (Source: National Archives; Image above via.) Transcript Seattle, Wash.Sept. 22, 1931 Dear Sir: My husband is in the habit of

Deep sickness seized me

In October of 1819, 23-year-old schoolteacher Lucy Thurston and her husband, Asa, left their home in Massachusetts to become members of the first expedition of Christian missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands. Their efforts were welcomed, and for the rest of their lives they educated the locals, helped to build schools and churches, and even translated

I am your fellow man, but not your slave

In September of 1848, the incredible Frederick Douglass wrote the following open letter to Thomas Auld — a man who, until a decade previous, had been Douglass’ slave master for many years — and published it in North Star, the newspaper he himself founded in 1847. In the letter, Douglass writes of his twenty years as a slave; his

I should like more money

The great Al Hirschfeld had been supplying his much-loved caricatures to the New York Times for 37 years when, in 1962, tipped over the edge by the newspaper’s accounting department, he sent the following amusing letter to the Sunday editor, Lester Markel. His request for a raise was granted. Transcript follows. (Source: The Paper’s Papers: A

Jelly-boned swines

June of 1912 was a bad month for D. H. Lawrence. His lover, Frieda — a married woman with whom he had recently fled to Germany — was being begged to return to the family home in England by her husband (and Lawrence’s former professor), Ernest Weekley. In addition, publisher William Heinemann had just decided to

Go easy with my money

In April of 1961, the inimitable Groucho Marx received a glossy annual report from the Franklin Corporation, a company in which he had recently become an investor. After flicking through the report, Groucho had some concerns, and so wrote the following letter to the company’s President, Herman Goodman, to inform him. (Source: The Groucho Letters;

Interviews are pure twaddle

In December of 1888, shortly before becoming editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Bok visited Mark Twain at his home to conduct an interview, the intention being to publish the resulting write-up in Bok’s weekly syndicated column. The chat went well; the next day he wrote the piece, and sent a copy to

I love my wife. My wife is dead.

Richard Feynman was one of the best-known and most influential physicists of his generation. In the 1940s, he played a part in the development of the atomic bomb; in 1986, as a key member of the Rogers Commission, he investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and identified its cause; in 1965, he and two colleagues

I feel happy tonight

On July 2nd of 1944, as she travelled by train from Chicago to San Francisco, author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote the following beautiful letter to her husband, Charles Lindbergh — an aviation pioneer who, 17 years previously, in 1927, flew from New York to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis to much acclaim. They remained

Never from so many at once

In 1932, a Mrs Randolph Frothingham, then President of the “Woman Patriot Corporation,” wrote a lengthy letter to the US government and demanded that Albert Einstein be barred from the country due to his being “affiliated with more anarchist and Communist groups than Josef Stalin himself.” The charges against him spanned 16 pages, and included