Randy Osborne really wants to write you a letter.
Not just one, all-encompassing missive circulating from Alpharetta to Zanzibar, making stops everywhere in between.
Instead, the Atlanta man will write and mail an individual letter to anyone who asks for one. One letter per day, starting back on Jan. 1. And continuing for the rest of this year. Totally kickin’ — scribblin’? — it old-school.
Each entry in Osborne’s “Letter A Day” project is handwritten and covers the front and back of a page with everything from light chatter about the weather and social outings to his deeper observations on life — whatever emerges from his self-described “stream of consciousness” style that ensures no two letters are ever quite the same. Then it’s mailed off, more often than not to a stranger.
But maybe not for long. Osborne, 57, already has received letter requests from people in 31 states and 14 countries (Irony alert: Most requests come in through Facebook or Osborne’s website). Meanwhile, something that began purely as a personal challenge for the Inman Park resident — could he really write a letter a day for an entire year? — has grown bigger and gone viral in a way that suggests a captivating mash-up of Pioneer Days and the iPad Age.
Much to Osborne’s surprise and delight, some people who made requests online now are mailing handwritten letters back to him. In Arizona, Taryn Burlison was so excited when Osborne’s letter arrived, she read it aloud to her assembled family — then posted about the experience on the project’s Facebook page.
“I found I actually craved that letter, to bring it into the home in a way that used to happen all the time,” Burlison, 38, a Tucson schoolteacher, explained in a phone interview. “For earlier generations, a letter was something you anticipated and shared with others.
“Everything that comes in the mail now is a bill or something I did not solicit,” she lamented.
Indeed, at first blush the “Letter A Day” project — much like those “low interest” credit card offers clogging mailboxes — sounds too good to be true. Stamps cost an awful lot these days. Cursive writing is superhard. Why would Osborne go to so much trouble unless it’s an evil plot to resurrect the dreaded chain letter or take down Twitter?
“This is by no means a protest of the Internet,” chuckled Osborne, whose day job, after all, is as a staff writer for BioWorld Today, a leading online biopharmaceutical news source. “I’ve said to everyone, ‘Send me a request for a letter, and by the way, it’s OK to keep checking your email.’ ”
There’s just something about a letter. That’s the simplest explanation for the “Letter A Day” concept, which came to Osborne in December, when he was looking for an interesting follow-up to his recently completed “Narrative Urge” project. A co-founder of Carapace, a public storytelling event held monthly at Manuel’s Tavern, Osborne is equally intrigued by exploring novel ways of sharing the written word. He’s written a poetry and prose “‘zine” with his college-age son as well as a book consisting of 999 “linked memories” exchanged between him and an Italian artist living in Japan. “Narrative Urge” was a hybrid mystery-literary scavenger hunt wherein Osborne anonymously distributed envelopes in and outside of Atlanta that contained different snippets of published writing (each also held a $10 bill) that were clues to the location of a website.
“Letter A Day” is Osborne’s attempt to do something public with writing that’s “the reverse” of his remaining anonymous. It’s also a way for him to scratch a long-standing itch for handwritten letters and diaries.
“There’s something about a human being having pressed pen or pencil to paper,” Osborne said. “What’s being said almost doesn’t seem as important as the act of saying it this way.”
He’s not the only writer with Atlanta connections currently keeping the post office busy. Two years ago, Mary Robinette Kowal, a Chicago novelist and professional puppeteer who trained at the Center for Puppetry Arts here, took a brief break from the Internet and somewhat cheekily suggested people send her letters instead.
“Much to my surprise, people wrote me,” Kowal recalled recently. “I loved it.”
She created “A Month of Letters Challenge” (www.lettermo.com) to encourage others to mail at least one item per day in February 2012 (intentionally chosen because it’s the shortest month). Over 1,800 people signed on for the second annual go-round last month — nearly double the first year’s total of 1,000.
“You forget the cool things about (letters),” Kowal said by phone before heading out to mail her output that day of 32 letters and postcards. “A letter is a tangible representation of that time in your life. When you send it to someone else, even to someone you don’t know, you’re making a personal connection.”
And how. While Osborne still occasionally frets he won’t get enough letter requests — “If I run out, I’ll start sending them to people I know, like my dentist” — the positive response so far suggests the project could last even longer than a year.
“If they keep writing,” Osborne said of his newfound “old school” correspondents, “I’ll keep writing.”
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