June 19, 2000
Los Angeles, California
Todays letter is by a young woman in Dallas named Chana Shvonne Williford.
I met her in 1994, when she was 14 or 15. She was living in a small town near Waco, Texas, writing poems about her boyfriend, who was in prison, and posting them on AOL. I wrote her a note telling her I liked her poems, and she wrote back, and weve been corresponding ever since.
Chana grew up on the Internet in a way that people my age (Im 32) can barely understand. She had her own web page before I knew what the web was; she taught me what ICQ is; for a while she lived in Philadelphia in a house that she shared with three other people, all fans of the Insane Clown Posse, all of whom shed met first over the net.
Todays letter is one she sent me a couple of weeks ago. Id been asking her for an update on her life shed moved around a lot since the last time wed spoken, from Philadelphia to Texas, with a few stops along the way, and she wrote me back to say
|paul....i hate to cop out on you like this...but i wrote this massive huge email about what's going on right now to my friend sarah yesterday. i don't feel like retyping everything so i'm just gonna forward it to you. really, it's long. you'll understand ;-)
And todays letter is what she sent me the next day.
Chanas letter helped clarify for me the voice that Im hoping to find, and publish, in Open Letters. I knew that there was a certain kind of writing that I was increasingly drawn to as a reader and an editor immediate, direct, first-person writing about the present; reporting in the true sense of the word. Its a kind of writing that appears in small doses in lots of places: from personal zines like Dishwasher and Rollerderby, to certain columns in weeklies like the New York Press and the New York Observer, to the "diary" page in the London Review of Books and the New Republic.
I think the best writers in this genre are ploughing a new ground between public writing and private writing creating a style that is more honest than most magazine writing, but less self-indulgent than most journal writing.
And Chana, by ccing me on this letter to a close friend (a friend, I should add, whom shes never met in person), demonstrated for me how writing could be public and private at the same time, and how the Internet, in ways that were all still figuring out, creates space for that to happen.
Chana still has a few web sites sprinkled around: this is the only one I can find right now. You can also hear a cool interview she did with her father, for Fathers Day two years ago, at the beginning of this show, on This American Life.
Tomorrow: a new writer, with a new letter. And next week, an update from Chana, on how things went with Tattoo Guy. Come on back, wont you?
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