EPISODE 15: Dear Listener
This episode explores the epistolary form, which is just a snobby way to say stories written in the form of a letter. Andrea Askowitz starts with a letter written to her from her best friend in high school, Robin. Robin and Andrea wrote hundreds of letters back and forth to each other throughout their friendship. The letters in Episode 15 were written 30 years ago, when Andrea spent a summer at camp away from Robin. Andrea saved the letters Robin wrote her. She also has the letters she wrote to Robin, because Robin died when they were both 33. Robin’s mom gave Andrea the letters.
Stories as letters are as old a stories. Seneca, the Roman philosopher wrote letters in the year 50 or 60 and those are now known as the first personal essays.
Writing a story in the form of a letter allows the author to be informal, direct, and totally personal. It also forces the storyteller to get to the truth, which is what we're after in any story.
Misha Mehrel tells his story as a letter to his old roommate. In it, he reveals so much of himself. He tells us what it’s like to lose his best friend to marriage.
In a round of letters between Robin and Andrea from the summer of 1986, Robin writes about how something was missing while Andrea was away. She reveals how hard it is to date boys and Andrea writes back with very specific dating advice: “BJ’s are a big deal, very personal, but if you lust peni, only do it if he’ll eat you out, it’s only fair.”
In the next story Bo uses the letter form to ramp up intimacy with a stranger he meets at a truck stop. Bo gives us a little of his own insecurities and a little of his humor.
Stories in the form of letters enable the narrator to be funny, especially if the letter is addressed to someone very familiar. Andrea shows us an example of an inside joke between Andrea and Robin. Andrea might be the only one who thinks her joke is funny.
The last story by a new student, Chaplin, shows so well what a letter can do. The story is intimate with the recipient, the audience and with the self. This story is about Chaplin’s struggle with gender identity. “Ask yourself this, how do you envision yourself growing old, as a woman or as a man?”
Letters are cathartic to write and to get. Especially in those days when letters took effort and money and were written alone in the middle of the night.
There’s love in a letter.
In the last letters between Andrea and Robin, Robin says it was good that they were apart that summer, so they could see they could be apart from each other. Then Andrea sends Robin a birthday card on her 20th birthday. The card is really a 40th birthday card and Andrea hopes Robin will send it back to her when she turns 40. Robin doesn’t send back the card.
The prompt for this episode: Write a letter to your best friend. Describe a time you learned a hard lesson. Time yourself for ten minutes, then record your story and email to firstname.lastname@example.org. There’s more writing class on www.writingclassradio.com.
Writing Class Radio is recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. This episode is produced by Allison Langer, Misha Mehrel and Andrea Askowitz, with editorial help from Claudia Franklin. Theme music by Adriel Borshansky. Additional music by Misha Mehrel and Blue Jay, and Kevin Myles Wilson.
P.S. This episode is dedicated to the families of the victims of the Orlando shooting.