Now that e-mails have been replaced by iMessages consisting mostly of poop emojis, a monthly show is trying to bring back the “lost art” of letter writing. “There’s just something really lovely about a well-crafted letter,” says Michaela McGuire, co-creator of Women of Letters.
Wednesday, May 13, the series will bring six women to the stage of Joe’s Pub to read letters they’ve written on this month’s theme “to the tap on my shoulder.” Each Women of Letters show is performed only once, under the strict condition that it is not recorded or photographed in any way. In the era of sharing ad nauseam, this choice is just one of the many things that sets the series apart.
Created by an Australian duo, Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy, the show premiered in Melbourne in 2010. The two met at a writers festival in 2009 and were inspired by the range of female talent they saw. The festival, however, took place only once a year, and McGuire and Hardy wanted to highlight the talented women around them on a more frequent basis. They bounced ideas back and forth, before settling on the format that has remained relatively unchanged to this day: five or six women read original letters related to the month’s theme. They’re performed for the first time at the show, and the host, who orders the lineup about an hour before it begins, often doesn’t have a chance to even see the letters ahead of time.
By 2013, Women of Letters had gained such a reputation that it was invited to SXSW. McGuire and Hardy decided to add a show in Los Angeles and New York to that U.S. debut, and returned the following year on an extended tour of the United States, Ireland, and the UK.
“We had such a great experience in every city,” said Hardy. “We thought, ‘Well, we could launch this anywhere as a monthly event in the States.’ But it would take the same sort of commitment that it does in Australia, in terms of booking and producing the shows.”
They found that commitment here in Trish Nelson and Sofija Stefanovic. Nelson is the founder of BanterGirl, a production company and online platform for female comedians and performers. She produced Women of Letters in New York on their 2014 United States tour, and was eager to take the group on when they came here permanently. This will be their seventh show, and they’ve sold out (or come close to it) every month.
“This show kind of inspired BanterGirl,” Nelson confessed. “It was just so powerful for me to be surrounded by all these powerhouse women. It was kind of a magical, serendipitous moment where it all kind of came together.”
The show has been equally serendipitous for host Sofija Stefanovic. She was first asked to read a letter for Women of Letters in Melbourne and loved the experience and community. She then moved to New York and McGuire and Hardy approached her about hosting the show. “It was basically the best thing that happened to me,” she said in an interview. It helped her find community here in New York, and has influenced her work as a writer, as well. And Stefanovic is not alone; all four women emphasized how supportive the female arts scene in New York has been.
Wednesday’s lineup will feature novelist Megan Abbott, Jezebel founder Anna Holmes, artist/writer/entrepreneur Molly Crabapple, author Sigrid Nunez, actress and comedian Beth Hoyt, and columnist and screenwriter Amy Sohn. While the show is a natural fit for women writers, the producers strive to represent as many professions as possible.
“I would love to get Hillary Clinton to do it,” Stefanovic laughed. Helen Mirren is on her wish list, too.
On Wednesday night, turn off your computer, stop taking pictures of your food, and come rediscover the lost art of writing and telling stories. Tickets to the event, held at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette Street) are $20 and can be purchased online. Proceeds will go to the New York Women’s Foundation (all productions, both in the United States and Australia, benefit charity, with over $500,000 raised so far). Doors are at 6 pm and the show starts at 7 pm.