Section: Opinion

Pushing the envelope: restoring the art of letter-writing

By Allegra Maldonado

It is about that time of year when we have settled into the swing of things. In the hustle and bustle of schoolwork social lives and maintaining an adequate sleep schedule, we often get caught up in life at Kenyon, ignoring those at home or abroad. Our families and friends, too, are guilty of the same. A quick text or the occasional email has become the go-to substitute for face-to-face interaction or something even more rare: the good, old-fashioned letter.

There exists an evolution of communication among humans; in ancient times only face-to-face conversation was possible but as time passed new ways to communicate developed, interminably layering on top of one another. Although humans have created seemingly never-ending sediment, ranging from sign language to telegrams to text messaging, these methods seem volatile and unresistant to ever-progressing technology. We tend to communicate in whichever way is easiest and fastest and dismiss the communicative methods of the past. I urge us not to.

Imagine the scene: A crackle pops out from the fire next to the desk you sit at while writing; the Montblanc pen poised above the paper suddenly comes to life, painting across page after page. It is red hot despite the piercing cold and the howling winds raging outside. Within a month or so this letter could be anywhere: the apex of the Eiffel Tower, tucked away in a coat pocket, with a long-lost pal or intrepid son whose lifestyle led him to a hostel in an eastern European country.

Believe it or not, these possibilities are not so outlandish. During the semester, a little under an eighth of Kenyon’s student body is studying abroad — in places as far away as Morocco and Paris or as close to home as Washington, D.C. But in a world filled with high-tech alternatives, letter-writing is passed over, or simply forgotten.

This summer I indulged in some letter-writing and found that the minor inconveniences of it — purchasing stamps and making a trip to the post office — were far outweighed by the simple pleasure of writing and being written to. I am confident that my peers, should they give it the good college try, would reach the same conclusion. For when we feel isolated on the Hill, the simplest remedy to alleviate such emotions is to reach outwards. Put a piece of yourself, put a piece of Kenyon anywhere that a letter can travel.

People are so connected. Laptops lie on kitchen tables in nearly every American household, iPhones and Blackberries buzz throughout the entire school day, and nobody can even run a quick errand without calling home to see who would prefer fat-free or one-percent milk. I don’t contest the importance of these technologies, but too often we fall under the assumption that with such a vast expanse of devices to help us communicate we could not be missing out on anything.

A world in which we are constantly updating statuses and retweeting posts actually results in people saying very little, as nothing said is ever deep or profound. In an attempt to connect with those at home or abroad, and encourage them to do the same, I ask the student body to pick up their pens and partake in one of life’s pleasures: the lost art of letter-writing. For “The tongue is prone to lose the way, / Not so for the pen, for in a letter / We have not better things to say, / but surely say them better” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life,” 1847).

Allegra Maldonado ’17 is an international studies major from Indianapolis. She can be contacted at


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