Explore Helen Rubinstein's Workshop
Open Letters of (subtle & unsubtle) Resistance
How stories are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. … Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story”
WHY write an open letter?
- to protect the story of yourself or your community from being dispossessed
- to challenge a dominant narrative by introducing a surprising perspective, description, or story
- to preserve “Hope Spots”: literally, “special places that are vital to the ocean,” as designated by the oceanographic organization Mission Blue, but metaphorically…?
- to remember and record: because history is written by those who write it - to ask or advocate for a particular future - to imagine things differently: an alternate present, past, or future
WHO might you write to?
- a close friend, family member, or loved one (“Americana/Dying of Thirst” [Perry])
- someone who will be made vulnerable by the new regime
- someone who will have power within the new regime
- a neighbor (“Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life” [Li])
- a stranger (“Dear Guy at the Ped Mall Painting Benches” [Brucker])
- a fictional character
- someone in a particular social role (“Please Consider Me for Your Racial Ambassador Position” [Ho])
- someone who is no longer living
- someone who is not yet born (“What I’ll Tell My Children” [Abrams])
- a senator, congressperson, or other public official
- a group of people (“Love Letter to White People” [Osmundson])
- your future or past self (“Dear Myself Circa 1998” [Mailer])
- an object, institution, or public entity (“Dear Dollar Tree Chicken Salad” [Brucker])
- someone in a photograph in the New York Times’s “Year in Pictures”
an OPEN LETTER...
- addresses a specific audience (individual or group)
- accounts for the particularities of the addressee
- might refer to shared experiences
- or specific characteristics
- …but is also comprehensible to the public
- can use a private, intimate voice, one catered to the addressee
- may not actually be sent
- lets the reader peek in on a private interaction
- makes public a private exchange—for the sake of openness, generosity, and change