Last month, I had the pleasure of seeing a truly unique literary salon-esque event called Women of Letters at Joe’s Pub. Conceived and curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire, the evening consisted of a panel of women writers (at the event I attended, this included Molly Ringwald, Stoya, Sabrina Jalees, Kambri Crews, Maria Popova, and Deborah Copaken), who all read letters on the theme of things that had vanished. What was perhaps at once both remarkable and expected was how wildly different all the women’s meditations on lost things were—from their heterosexual youth to a missing beauty mark, each missive was specific to the woman telling it, and all were full of humor, pathos, and beauty. Next week, the event returns to Joe’s Pub, and will feature Rachel Antonoff, Larisa Oleynick, Suki Kim, Maeve Higgins, and Phoebe Robinson. I interviewed co-founder Marieke Hardy recently to ask her about the inspiration for the series, what makes a well-balanced panel, and who the dream letter-writer would be.
What was your inspiration for this reading series?
We have been curating the Women of Letters literary salons from our home base of Australia since 2010. After successful tours across the US in 2013 and 2014 we decided to make NYC our monthly home base, complementing our monthly shows in Melbourne. At its heart, WoL is a celebration of women, words, and the lost art of letter writing.
How do you choose the theme of your letters each month?
As Michaela and I are both writers we work hard to develop topics that will give each reader the chance to tell a story. Whether it be funny, dark, personal or in song form, it’s up to them! We never want to be too narrow-visioned; the topics should be a starting point.
What goes into making a well-balanced panel of women writers?
It’s all about careful curation. Once we’ve locked in a comedian, for example, we tend to focus on fleshing out the panel with women from other walks of life—an artist, a singer, a sculptor, a poet, an author. We want the women to vary in age and background. We work very hard every month to ensure that the stage holds a vast range of people.
What have been some of the most rewarding experiences for you coming from Women of Letters?
WoL is truly a labor of love for us—all the money goes to charity (in Australia, we’ve raised over $500,000 for an animal rescue shelter named Edgar’s Mission, in NYC our money is going to the New York Women’s Foundation). The fact that we never, ever record the shows means that our audiences are treated to something truly unique – the chance to sit and experience a moment that can’t be revisited on You Tube or a podcast. We’re very proud of creating that safe space for our readers.
One thing I was particularly impressed by was how intimate the experience of attending a show was; there was the same balance of irreverence, insight, and introspection that women usually share when speaking in private conversation, but not as frequently in public conversation. Do you think this would be as powerful an experience if the panel was mixed-gender?
In Australia we do an annual “Men of Letters” event, featuring ten men reading “A letter to the woman who changed my life.” We do find that men speak in a different way to women, yet even so over the past five years our expectations have been confounded—there are just as many men who share emotional depth and tears (we think the assurance that they won’t be recorded helps there).
Who are some ideal candidates for future shows?
We’ve learned to aim high and just ask everybody. It can’t hurt! So we’re thinking Oprah, Hillary Clinton, Madonna. We’re sure they have some spare time on their hands.
For tickets to Women of Letters, visit here.