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Poet Willie Perdomo on the value of writing letters in a digital world


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Texting and e-mailing technology have revolutionized the way we communicate. It has permitted us to be more efficient, to stay in touch easier, and has likely changed the dynamics of some of our most important relationships.

But within that revolution, have we also lost something?

Tonight, poet Willie Perdomo urges us to take up pen and paper because, in his Humble Opinion, a letter expresses more than just words.

Willie Perdomo: These days, humans are growing lonelier by the gigabyte. Hookup and social apps connect us before we actually meet. Bullies thrive anonymously. Google completes our sentences.

It takes only three emojis to say, let's have a martini and dance. It's going to be lit.

Words have lost their intent, their impact. The role of writing letters has become an almost extinct practice in our daily lives. The envelope in the mail is just a bill.

I used to be a passionate letter writer. I wrote my letters by hand, so my friends were able to see my redactions and second thoughts. They were privy to my flaws, celebrations, and conflicts. One friend told me she carried one of my letters from East Harlem to Paris like a charm.

I wanted my letters to be a familiar voice in a new city, a blues song replayed in a strange village. On occasion, I sent and received letters from friends in prison. They liked to call letters kites. For them, ink and blank pages were at a high premium. Their letters were usually full of promises, epiphanies, and requests for poetry.

I would return their kites with shout-outs from the city. Here, I would say, fly the kite for a day, if not your full sentence.

Letters are where we argue, say goodbye, dream, fail, forgive, and tell our secrets, and send regrets. We can't filter our lives or curate our feeds in letters. Letters are where we attempt to tell the truth and wait.

People tend to believe handwritten letters, or, as one friend suggested, you can't hide from a letter so easily.

Recently, my wife wrote me from her childhood home in Puerto Rico. She could've easily sent emojis of sunshine and palm trees or a squared photo of her doing a mountain pose on a local beach.

But, instead, she cried post-Hurricane Maria tears in her letter. She left splotches of coffee stains and smudges of ink on the margins. I believed her.

Some of us still write letters. It's our resistance against loneliness, where we witness. Write a letter to someone you love, and if you can't write, have someone write it for you. Surprise a friend, a classmate, a coach, a beloved, a mentor. Tell them a story. Let them know you're paying attention.

Letter writing is a pure act of devotion, a place where, if not storytellers, we all become human again.

Judy Woodruff: Great advice. Pick up a pen and paper.

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