Kate E. Thompson was browsing in the American West section of Weller Book Works in Salt Lake City last year when she came across a letter tucked between two books.
“If you find this letter know that you are loved” was written on the envelope. The note inside included a drawing of a heart and said, “Dear Friend, If you are reading this letter, know that you are loved. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
The letter struck a chord with Thompson, who was in Salt Lake City to do research for a historical novel based in the Territory of Utah and inspired by her ancestors’ lives. “That was perfect advice for a writer,” said Thompson, who lives north of Seattle. “It was like the advice was meant for me.”
The note was written as part of Love Letters, a frequent pop-up event organized by Culture Collective Events — which uses art “to create a world filled with joy, belonging and human connection.” The Salt Lake City-based group also hosts events like laughter yoga classes and street karaoke.
“We all have a need for expression,” founder Bahaa Chmait said. “We believe art can heal the world. Beautiful things happen with human connection.”
The writing events are part of a movement started by Hannah Brencher, who began writing letters to strangers and leaving them in public places after moving to New York City following her graduation from college.
In 2011, Brencher started The World Needs More Love Letters, which posts requests on its website for letters and forwards the responses to the person who needs encouragement. The organization has spread to all 50 states and more than 70 counties, and has delivered more than 250,000 letters to people in need, according to its website.
Culture Collective Events began hosting its own writing sessions in 2018 and participants have produced more than 1,000 handwritten letters, Chmait said. The notes might include a life lesson, song lyrics, a poem or words of wisdom, he said.
“There’s a lot of creativity involved,” Chmait said, adding that the reaction to getting or finding a letter has always been positive, and recipients sometimes respond on social media with thanks.
The letters can be written to someone the author knows, to a specific group or to a stranger who will find it. The collective takes requests on Facebook and Instagram to send letters to people who are down on their luck and need a few kind words.
At a January event, volunteers wrote about 80 letters to people who fled a civil war in Myanmar, and live in the Karenni refugee camp on the border of Thailand. The letters were full of empathy and encouragement.
“Hope is so powerful,” one letter said. “Openness is necessary. People love you & care. Everything will be okay. Never lose your spirit.”
“Hello wonderful human, I think you’re amazing,” another letter began. “We don’t know each other but we are connected. I hope you find beauty in your day.”
A third writer said, “My heart aches, your world shakes. But this is not the end. We won’t let this go on forever… See the light in all things. Let light guide you. You are Important.”
The letters to the refugees will be mailed to a volunteer at the camp who is currently in Arizona on vacation. He will hand-deliver them when he returns.
Chmait urges everyone to write love letters to share kindness and create connections with people they know, as well as to strangers.
So how do you write a love letter to a romantic partner, a family member, a friend, someone who made a difference in your life, or a stranger? The two elements that matter most are honesty and detail, according to Nan Seymour, the founder of River Writing, which offers writing and storytelling workshops.
“If you’re writing to someone you love, it’s really important to be specific,” Seymour said.
For example, she said, let a loved one know you like that he wears mismatched socks and tell your fourth grade teacher that “you’re the reason I know the difference between igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rock.”
Specificity is harder with a stranger, but a writer can offer encouragement, Seymour said.
Tiffany Burns, a River Writing facilitator, has sent letters to friends telling them five of the many things she likes about them. She also likes to share poetry in love letters.
“Sharing pieces of your own story reminds us we’re connected somehow,“ she added.
One Culture Collective writer took that approach in a letter last year, telling a stranger about coming to Salt Lake City from Pittsburgh with a significant other, then breaking up and moving to a new apartment.
“I decided to stay here in Salt Lake instead of going back ... Take the chance, especially if it is unpredictable. Things can work out in the most unexpected ways. I believe in you,” the writer said in a note posted on the collective’s Facebook page.
The letter included a slightly changed Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. Whatever you do, keep moving forward.”
In January, Dina Walton also wrote to a random stranger, folded the note inside an origami bird and left it in Park City. Her letter said she had gone through hard times and came out fine.
“It was an uplifting message about everybody being valuable,” Walton said. “I’d love to receive something like that.”
Thompson was surprised when she found one of the collective’s letters at the bookstore last year. “I didn’t know what to do with it,” she said. “Should I keep it? Should I put it back?”
She decided to share the letter on social media and took pictures with her phone to post on Instagram. Then she passed the love along.
“I photographed it on the shelf and took a picture of the note,” Thompson said. “I put it back in the envelope and tucked it back on the shelf so someone could find it.”
So, if you’re in a store or a restaurant or another place in the community and come across an envelope that says you are loved, open it. What’s inside could brighten your day.
READY TO WRITE?
Culture Collective Events is holding a Love Letters Valentine’s Day Edition from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 13, at 3 Cups, 4670 S. Holladay Village Plaza, #104, in Holladay. Participants can write a romantic note, a letter to a friend or family member or a letter of kindness to a stranger.
A similar event, hosted by the SaLt Lake Community College Gender & Sexuality Student Resource Center, is scheduled for 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, at the center, 1575 S. State St., Salt Lake City.
Other upcoming events include:
• More Love Letters: Writing a River of Love, facilitated by Tiffany Burns and Nan Seymour of River Writing. The writing workshop is slated for 2 to 4 p.m. March 7, at Weller Book Works, 607 Trolley Square, in Salt Lake City.
• Love Letters Art Gallery Edition. The event is slated from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 17 at Urban Arts Gallery, 116 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City.
• The Mothers Day meets Dinosaur Edition will be held from noon to 2 p.m. May 9 at the Natural History Museum of Utah, 301 Wakara Way, in Salt Lake City.
All of the events are free. Find more events at Culture Collective Events’ page on Facebook.
HOW TO WRITE A LETTER WITH LOVE
The same advice applies to letters to a romantic partner, a family member, a friend or someone who made a difference in your life. From River Writing and Culture Collective Events:
• Say what’s in your heart and be honest.
• Be specific if you can. Give details about why you love the person or what they did to help you.
• If you’re writing to a stranger, share events in your life. People can bond over mutual experiences.
• Be creative. Include poems, song lyrics or words of inspiration to get your message across.
• Handwrite the letter rather than type it.
Coverage of downtown Salt Lake City arts groups is supported by a grant from The Blocks, a cultural initiative of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.