Donovan Beeson loves a good ka-thunk: that sound one hears as the mail drops into the postbox. As the co-founder of the Letter Writers Alliance — an organization dedicated to, among other things, providing letter writing tools as well as pen pals — she hears that sound quite often. Here, Beeson talks to us about “goodie boxes,” her motley crew of pen pals and her position on supermarket stamps.
When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
I’ve always loved sending and receiving mail. I can remember my maternal grandmother sending what she called “goodie boxes” to our house at every holiday. They were simple collections of candy and small toys, but everything was magical because it was wrapped up special and came in a box. Now, I’m the one who sends the boxes of goodies and I like it just as much being the sender as being the receiver.
How did the LWA come to be?
My business partner Kathy started her stationery business 16 Sparrows in 2003. I came on to help with production when she started graduate school, and together we evolved the business into something less like a business and more like a lifestyle. In 2007, we started the Letter Writers Alliance because the most common statement we would receive was that people loved our stationery but “no one writes letters anymore.” We decided to create a network so that all of those letter lovers would be able to write to each other and no mailbox would ever go hungry again.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The people — I have met so many different, interesting and thoroughly engaging human beings through letters. In my return pile right now is an active duty soldier, a 12-year-old equestrian, a retired engineer, a teacher returning to work soon and so many more. I get to see slices of life that I would know nothing about, direct from their sources. I love it.
What is your favorite step in the process of written correspondence?
It’s a head-to-head race between picking out the proper stamps and the muffled ka-thunk of the mail inside the collection box. Both are signals to me of a job well done and of more mail to come.
If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
While it’s tempting to say someone famous, I’d want to write to anyone who would write me back. There’s a great book called Women’s Letters that a friend sent to me which collects the letters of women of all walks of life from the 1700s onward and uses their voices to show the immediacy of the history that surrounded them. After reading that, I made a bit more of an effort to talk about the world and my time in my letters, you know, for the sake of posterity.
To whom do you most often write?
My most prolific correspondents typically write two or three letters to me a month and I make an effort to return all letters within a week. I don’t have just one person who I flood with letters. I spread the love and I give as good as I get.
Describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received.
I get great things all the time. I am exceptionally lucky and am so grateful to all of my pen pals. Because they know I love postal history, my pen pals will go out of their way to post me letters from under the sea, or from the oldest post office, or the smallest, or something of equal importance that they know I’ll enjoy. Special postmarks and artistamps often adorn my incoming mail as well as tons of stunning and touching mail art creations. I am truly blessed. I can’t pick just one, but I do photo document it all for our Flickr page and I also make a point to scan and share some letters on our blog as well.
What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
My pile is a mighty peculiar pile, so the “stand out” in mine is often a #10 business envelope. It will be glaringly bland amidst my incoming mail of clear tubes, bulging boxes, repurposed packaging and multicolor missives.
Do you have a favorite stamp or stamp series?
I have too many. It is a disease that can only be cured by more stamps. My current favorite contemporary stamps are the American Scientist issues, but in the vintage category I love the 1986 issue of Dinosaurs, the 1967 Mississippi statehood magnolia and any issue that references the postal service and the sending of mail, like the 1980 National Letter Writing week issue with its “P.S. Write Soon” stamps.
What makes your correspondence distinct?
Well, if you don’t correspond with anyone else who does mail art, then my envelopes are very distinct. Each one is handmade or embellished with ephemera or other supplies. I don’t know that I have a distinguished enough style to be picked out of a crowd of mail artists, though. Typically, my pieces feature vintage stamps and I tend to use a cursive large name and then print the address of the recipient.
What is your favorite product created by Crane & Co.?
I am in love with anything hand bordered, but the Letterpress Postage Stamp notecards and the Signed, Sealed, Delivered notecards are my current favorites. Oh, and the Florentine papers, too. There is too much, I’ll stop there.
What do you think classic correspondence will look like in a decade or two?
It is my fervent wish and desire that it will continue to regain favor. I see more people opting to take handwriting classes and more typewriters rescued from basements, more fountain pens found discarded in drawers given new life. I think the more digital we become the more precious the tangible will be, and that people will cherish correspondence all the more for it.
Have a question for Donovan? Email our Crane Concierge at firstname.lastname@example.org.