Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Authors' Letters Go the Way of the Dinosaur

When was the last time you took pen to paper and wrote a letter? In this digital age, we are at risk of losing one of the greatest communication tools of all-time - the letter. ...
The Abebooks blog looks at a treasury of author letters that they have up for sale. Here's Ray Bradbury's illustrated letter to Herman Kogan (left); an invitation to tea with Conan Doyle; Vladimir Nabokov's contract with Doubleday, and much more.

But the question they raise is a very important one:
Today we can look back at the great minds of yesteryear through their letters that collectors and libraries treasure. Will anyone keep the emails of Ian McEwan or the Twitter tweets of Neil Gaiman?
In a piece at The New York Times some time back, Rachel Donadio addressed these same concerns :
The problem isn't that writers and their editors are corresponding less, it's that they're corresponding infinitely more -- but not always saving their e-mail messages. Publishing houses, magazines and many writers freely admit they have no coherent system for saving e-mail, let alone saving it in a format that would be easily accessible to scholars. Biography, straight up or fictionalized, is arguably one of today's richest literary forms, but it relies on a kind of correspondence that's increasingly rare, or lost in cyberspace.
It isn't just letters that future generations will miss out on as they try to gain an insight into the inner workings of authors' minds - but also perhaps things like notebooks, drafts and annotated manuscripts since so much of our thinking now is done at the keyboard. Maybe authors need to be proactive in storing their stuff and letting others know where and how it is stored?


Richard said...

Maybe authors should blog more. I blog because I want to leave something behind for my kids and their kids to know about me.

Nizam said...

I told my significant other jokingly last month, if anybody wants to learn more about me (to write a biography of me), perhaps they can just read my twitter timeline.

But is it ever enough?