Dr. Mel B. Yoken has been a letter writer for much of his life. If he reads a book he enjoys, he writes a note to the author to say thank you. “It’s not a big deal for me. Get a piece of paper, write it down, put a stamp on it.” He has collected the replies to those letters in his newest book “A History of Letters: Memorable Quotes from a Moribund Art” (Atmosphere Press 2022).
Yoken has received replies from luminaries across the generations.The letters in this book date from the 1960s to today and include a “potpourri” of people: politicians, sculptors, sports figures, artists and more.
“I used to receive seven to 10 letters a day, and now it is only one or two," Yoken said in a recent interview. “As I received these letters, the contents are so incredible. I wanted to share these with the world.” He describes these letters as “riveting and erudite.” Yoken, who himself has donated 400,000 letters to the Brown University Library, is clearly an expert on writing letters.
One of the most incredible letters was from Dave Garroway, an American television personality who came on the television while Yoken was ill. “I was very sick, and he made me laugh, he made me feel better.” So Yoken sent him a letter and weeks later received a “16-page handwritten letter from him, detailing everything in his life. A year and a half later, he wrote me again, and a few weeks later, he committed suicide.”
Dr. Mel B. Yoken is Chancellor Professor Emeritus of French Language and Literature at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He will be signing copies of his new book “A History of Letters: Memorable Quotes from a Moribund Art” Wednesday, May 24, at 6 p.m., at Books on the Square, 471 Angell St., Providence.
SARAH GREENLEAF (email@example.com) is the digital marketing specialist for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and writes for Jewish Rhode Island.