This competition is now closed but you are still welcome to read through the published writing and blog posts.
In the age of dashed-off emails and two-word texts, personal letters rarely swish through the mail slot. And yet the art of letter writing still bears much power. “A letter always seemed to me like immortality,” wrote Emily Dickinson in regards to how a physical piece of written correspondence can be held, cherished, or published. Unlike those one-line emails, letters often last, preserved by their recipients in sock drawers, in boxes and under beds, or between the leaves of a book.
You could even say that the gravity of a letter has grown in the digital age. In the past, letters were written to convey important messages, but they were also used for ordinary correspondence—what phone calls, emails, and texts do for us now. Write a letter today, though, and you can be sure it is imbued with significance. Indeed, a physical letter is the chosen form of communication when you want your message to be ‘immortal’, held onto and cherished, rather than languishing in an overcrowded inbox. Letters have become our most sturdy form of record-keeping, documenting a time and place, and our feelings at that special juncture. In this way, letters offer an intimate window, revealing as much about the writer and recipient as the subject matter itself.
This month, help us celebrate this age-old form by writing your own letter(s). Your entry might capture one letter-writer’s voice, or an exchange between two correspondents. We welcome all types of letter writing, including personal, historical, and fictional.
Personal: A real letter to a real someone.
Do you have a message to convey in writing? Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote his memoir Between the World and Me
as a letter to his teenage son: “This is your country,” he tells his son, “this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” And in Dear Mr. You
, Mary Louise Parker writes a series of letters: to a beloved priest from her childhood, the grandfather she never knew, a cab driver, an ex-boyfriend. In a letter to her father, after he’s passed, she writes about parenting two children alone: “This is your family I am running here. I can’t take credit for more than remembering to point up to you when I do something right and for continuing to put one foot in front of the other when I lose heart.”
Historical: Imagined correspondence.
Alternatively, you might add a letter to an existing correspondence, such as the long string of letters between John and Abigail Adams
. Or you could step into the shoes of Jane Goodall
, writing home from Tanzania after seeing a chimpanzee for the first time. Or take on the voice of Rainer Maria Rilke
as he mentors the young poet Franz Xaver Kappus: “Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody,” Rilke wrote to Kappus in 1902. “There is only one way. Go into yourself.” Or write as Theo, on receiving the news that your brother Vincent has completed a new study of a starry sky (Letters of Vincent Van Gogh
). For more ideas on historical letter writing, check out Letters of a Nation
Fictional: Start from scratch.
Finally, you might bring to life a letter-writer and recipient from your own imagination. The whole of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead
is written as a long letter from an elderly father to his young son: “This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it,” he tells the boy. The love story told through postcards in Griffin and Sabine
is another example of epistolary fiction, as are the books in the Ashbury/Brookfield series by our guest judge, Jaclyn Moriarty
, and the letters to God that Celie writes in The Color Purple
Whatever shape your letter-writing takes, be sure to pay attention to:
How can you turn the letter writer and letter recipient into three-dimensional people? Can you show, through your letter that characters have multiple sides? Rather than thinking of them as either “good” or “bad,” or protagonists or antagonists, consider every character to have both flaws and gifts… just like real people… just like you and me.
Whether your letter is fiction or nonfiction, the voice of the narrator is a key ingredient. Is the letter-writer an observer? A thinker? A feeler? Through what lens does the writer look at the world? How does the relationship between the writer and the recipient change the tone of the letter?
Why is this letter being written? What story does it tell? What message does it deliver? What question does it ask? What response does the letter writer hope to receive? Although you likely won’t answer these questions directly in your letter, responding to them in the drafting process will help you uncover what’s at stake.
As with other genres, unusual, gritty, and surprising details are what amplify a letter’s punch. Make sure to include descriptions that will stick in a reader’s memory long after the last line.
We can’t wait to read your epistolary explorations! As Lewis Carroll once said, “The proper definition of a man [or a woman] is an animal that writes letters.” So get to it, dear writers. We’ll be waiting by the mailbox.
Best Entry: $100 (winning piece + author interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog)
Runner up: $50
Best Peer Review: $50 (reviewer interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog)
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
Prizes: The winning entrant will receive $100, and the runner-up and best peer-reviewer will receive $50.
Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.
Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday July 11, and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
July 4: Competition Opens
July 11: Submit draft for Expert Review (optional)
July 14: Reviews returned to Writers
July 19: Final Submissions
July 29: Winners Announced
Flash Fiction Opens Monday, August 1.
Stay tuned for more details!