Culture

Women of Letters Storytelling Series Brings Awesome Talents Together

Women writers, musicians, actors, comedians and politicians gather to tell tales.

Photo Credit: Kathleen Miller / kathleenandcamera.com

During the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election, just a few days after the infamous Access Hollywood was released, I took a break from my ever-present Trump-based nightmares to watch a room full of talented women—artists, actresses, writers, and comedians—read letters to their younger selves. Women of Letters, a monthly literary salon that started in Australia and is now also in New York, was started by Australian writers Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire as a tribute to the power of storytelling and the lost art of letter writing. In the aftermath of listening to a presidential candidate brag about sexual assault, the show felt like a corrective. 

That unseasonably warm night, I was particularly excited to see my childhood favorite writer and illustrator, Maira Kalman. I laughed and sighed along with the other participants as they consoled their younger selves through everything from learning new languages to surviving being dead broke, and healing broken hearts. It was so refreshing to watch such a diverse group of women—including Kalman, actresses Amber Tamblyn and Laura Gomez, writer Estelle Tang, comedian Shawleda Sharpe, and writer/radio personality Diana Cage—deliver tales of roach-infested apartments, schoolyard humiliation and occasional career triumph.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal in 2015, musician and WoL reader JD Samson said, "It felt like the old feminist trade of consciousness sharing." Her story was about the night of the 2004 election. In the same edition, actress Edie Falco recounted a night before she got sober. 

Knowing that the proceeds from the event go to charity was even better. Co-founder Hardy told Brooklyn Magazine, "In Australia, we’ve raised over $500,000 for an animal rescue shelter named Edgar’s Mission; in NYC our money is going to the New York Women’s Foundation."

A year and an election later, my aforementioned nightmare may have come true. The latest New York edition comes on the heels of the revelations of movie producer Harvey Weinstein's decades of sexual harassment and assault, and of the subsequent #MeToo social media campaign exposing countless women's stories of abuse. Storytelling may not have saved an election, but that hasn't diminished the importance of spaces like Women of Letters, for women to be heard.

After a successful run at Joe's Pub, the sister venue to New York's Public Theater (home of Hamilton), its New York edition is moving to an even bigger venue, the 300 seat City Winery. “We’re thrilled to debut the show at City Winery," producer Trish Nelson said in a statement. “It’s the perfect location as it offers even more room for our fans while still keeping the intimate vibe that Women of Letters is known for.” 

The October 19 addition, whose theme is "A letter to my little lie," will feature comedian and former SNL star Sasheer Zamata; Marcy Dermansky, author of "The Red Car"; Angela Ledgerwood, host of the Lit Up podcast; Rafia Zakaria, author of "Veil"; Cipriana Quann, co-founder of Urban Bush Babes; and musician Kaki King. 

Those not in New York or Australia are not entirely out of luck. Three collections of the show's letters have been published by Penguin, and the show has toured in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin (SXSW), London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Wellington and the Indonesian cities of Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Ubud.

Visit the website to learn more about future shows

Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.