An installation and invitation by Abe Louise Young and Alan Shefsky
When two poets began a handwritten letter correspondence in 1999, magic happened and it became one of their main artistic vehicles for the next 13 years. Austin poet Abe Louise Young and Chicago poet Alan Shefsky exchanged over 3,000 intimate, playful, often-rhyming letters and ephemera until Shefsky's death in 2014.
It showcases the art of letter-writing, the process of becoming confidantes using words and art, and a friendship between a man and woman--one gay and one straight, one Midwestern and one Southern. Approximately 150 selected letters, poems and postcards are curated throughout the space that visitors may touch and read, learning how the two grew to know one another and to move through life's brightest and darkest moments exchanging poetic prose. The exhibit opened first at Prizer Arts in Austin, TX in 2015, where it attracted over 400 attendees, many of whom took the invitation to write a letter of their own. The exhibit is available to travel throughout the U.S. to galleries, museums and schools.
Abe Louise Young
It’s a rare and marvelous thing to luck upon a correspondent – someone you correspond to and with, in both senses of the word. Alan Shefsky and I began writing to each other in 1999. I lived in Oakland and applied to graduate school. He was the department secretary in Chicago who opened the application envelopes. He mailed me a note with a hand-drawn green frog in the corner, asking if he might send me a poem of his own.
It was instantly evident that we felt our way through the world in the same manner. He was full of praise, easily delighted, oddly vulnerable, awake to injustice and ready to assert the equality of every human, animal, vegetable and mineral. We were in love with words and all you could do with an imagination. Our art practice was no longer so solitary.
Kurt Vonnegut said once that you only need two things to be a writer: a) something to say, and b) someone to say it to. It is my great good fortune that Alan and I could be that someone for each other until – and through each step of – his death in 2014.
We tried to tell the whole truth. I hope that in seeing these letters, you feel the play and joy of language, and are moved to write a letter of your own.
INVITATION TO WRITE
The exhibit culminates in a letter-writing room for visitors, filled with letter-writing prompts, art supplies, paper and envelopes, and a mailbox for addressed correspondence to be placed in. As a celebration of communal writing, the artist will stamp and mail letters created at the exhibit to any address in the world. (At the Austin opening, 237 letters were created by members of the public and mailed to their destinations around the world.)
by Abe Louise Young and Alan Shefsky
1) Write a letter to your younger self.
2) Write a letter to yourself at age 85. Tell yourself about the life you’ve had.
3) Write a short, appreciative letter to your mother. Or write a short, angry letter to your mother.
4) Consider the night sky, moon and stars. Write a letter describing their qualities to them.
5) Write a letter to your house. Tell it what you love about it most.
6) Write a letter to your plumbing or electricity. Ask questions.
7) Write a letter of apology for something you have been thinking about with regret for more than ten years.
8) Write a Do Not Send letter to someone you are angry with: tell them everything they did and how it affected you. Do not send the letter, but enjoy feeling better.
9) Write a letter to a future lover inviting them into your life.
10) Write a letter to a former lover wishing them well, or ill.
11) Write a letter to a future spouse thanking them.
12) Write a letter to a current spouse telling them something you find uniquely charming about their mannerisms.
13) Write a letter to a cherished cat, dog or chicken.
14) Write a letter to your race.
15) Write a letter to another race. Address race relations.
16) Write a letter to your gender, or to someone else’s gender.
17) Write a letter in the form of a grocery list.
18) Write a letter to a tree, or to a kind of trees.
19) Write a letter full of insults. Be vulgar, rude and awful.
20) Tell your body what you love about it.
21) Write a 1-paragraph letter to your first best friend.
22) Write a letter to Barack or Michelle Obama, or to Sasha and Malia.
23) Write a letter to someone born into very different circumstances.
24) Write a letter in three questions.
25) Write a letter that is one hour long.
26) Write a letter to a teacher you had in grades K-12.
27) Write a letter to a sport like swimming, soccer or skateboarding.
28) Write a letter to your teeth.
29) Write a letter that makes no sense whatsoever.
30) Write a letter that contains breath, stars and soap.