Flowers. Chocolates. Hallmark cards. Feb. 14 is almost upon us, but instead of repeating this tired trio, local non-profit Santa Cruz Writes (SCW) wants to pen your valentine an old-school love letter.
This Saturday, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH), along with Bookshop Santa Cruz and the Felix Culpa Gallery, will welcome three writers apiece from SCW to set up shop in each location and put their talents to work for Santa Cruzans. SCW members will type or hand-write personalized love letters based on specifications given to them by prospective “lovers.”
“So much of Valentine’s Day is about buying crap, and this is not about that,” said Nina Simon, executive director of the MAH. “I think [this] is going to be a unique opportunity for people to engage in the long-honored but rarely practiced art of romantic letter writing.”
Many of these letters will then appear in the All You Need Is Love exhibit at the MAH from April to July.
“People are going be able to take away either a letter or poem — that’s the tangible thing they’ll take away,” said Julia Chiapello, who co-founded SCW along with local writers Jory Post and Karen Ackland. “But I also hope people come away with a sense of community around writing and words, and around the expression of ideas and of our thoughts.”
The Love Letters event is the brainchild of Chiapello and her friend Sara Wilbourne. They developed goals, formulated ideas, and Love Letters took shape.
Wilbourne wanted to spend more time with Chiapello, an old friend, and thought a mutual project might present a perfect solution to that dilemma. Meanwhile, Chiapello had been trying to think of some sort of launch event for SCW’s forthcoming online literary magazine, Phren-Z, the group’s main creative endeavor. Phren-Z is now scheduled for takeoff on Feb. 14. The Love Letters project came to be a solution to both of these problems.
Love Letters was inspired by a Dave Eggers exhibit involving the general public and typewriters, and a Brazilian movie called “Central Station” in which a teacher writes letters for others who cannot.
“I’m very excited about the way the three venues embraced this event when we proposed it to them, because Julia and I just kind of made this up, and we had no idea really what was going to happen with it,” Wilbourne said. “And now it has grown into this amazing thing with three venues all in one day, and nine writers.”
The writers themselves are a varied bunch, coming from all different backgrounds and stages in their careers.
UC Santa Cruz alum Elizabeth Mckenzie has had her stories published in The Saturday Evening Post as well as The Atlantic Weekly, and is also the author of two published novels. Three of the other writers are current UCSC students in the creative writing concentration in the literature department.
“Letters have become even more valuable because we’re desensitized with the mass amount of technological mediums, and receiving something that’s handwritten or typed up on a typewriter … it just really connects with people on a different level,” SCW writer Alyssa Young said. “Having anything handmade is always wonderful.”
Young also has her approach to the letters down pat.
“It’s a matter of just trying to be really emotionally understanding of [the lover’s] situation and finding good little language tentacles to represent that,” she said.
In addition to providing their services to Santa Cruzans on Valentine’s Day, the group hopes the event will support SCW. The local non-profit is committed to fostering community and change via the written word.
“Our aim really with all of this is promoting Santa Cruz Writes,” Chiapello said. “Santa Cruz Writes is really existing to create an informed and thoughtful democracy via writing. We need more people writing and communicating ideas and reflecting on their thinking in order to make sense of our world.”