Event—Adult Education

Beyond the Inbox: The Lost Art of Letter Writing with Pen and Paper


Rediscover the timeless beauty of handwritten connection in a digital world.

Woman with letter, Georges Conrad, Carte Postale, late nineteenth–early twentieth century. Source: The Newberry Library, Call Number: Modern MS Monroe Artist Box 3 no. 125.

Class Description

Journey back to letter writing's golden age and learn to craft physical messages that allow you to connect with loved ones and yourself! We will explore the timeless art of letters by reading exemplary letters from history, including many with a Chicago or Illinois connection like Jane Addams and Upton Sinclair.

Learn how to write thoughtful and engaging letters that connect with others, and practice using letters to encourage deep thinking and reflection. We will also explore our artistic selves, using creative writing and design that express who we want to be. In each class, we’ll spend time workshopping letters using paper, envelopes, and other art supplies to create letters you can send to others, keep for yourself, or destroy. Rediscover the timeless beauty of handwritten connection in a digital world by creating personal letters that reflect your individuality and resonate beyond the inbox.

Dr. Jen Adams is currently Chair and Professor of Communication and Theatre at DePauw University, where she also serves as Faculty Development Coordinator. An award-winning educator with over twenty-five years of experience in higher education, she teaches a variety of courses in speech and relational communication.

Materials List


  • Instructor-Distributed Materials

First Reading

For the first day of class, please read the following short articles and letters sent by the instructor.

  • “The History and Lost Art of Letter Writing,” Newsweek Magazine, January 7, 2009
  • Adams, J. “Reflective Interlude on keeping old things, nostalgia, and personal letters” in An Autoethnography of Letter Writing and Relations Through Time: Finding our Perfect Moon (Routledge, 2023) pp. 39-52
  • Finefield, K. “Looking back at Letter Writing” in Picture This: Library of Congress Prints and Photos, October 3, 2018.
  • Letter #1: Abraham Lincoln to Fanny McCullough (condolences), December 23, 1862
  • Letter #2: Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo Van Gogh, June 22/24, 1880
  • Letter #3: Francis Webber Server letters to Kate Elliott Sever concerning World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893
  • Letter #4: Simone de Beauvoir to Nelson Algren responding to his desire to end their affair, September 1950
  • Letter #5: Dorothy Freeman to Rachel Carson on friendship, Christmas 1963
  • Letter #6 Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera on her impending surgery, 1953

Cost and Registration

3 Sessions, $200 ($180 for Newberry members, seniors, and students). Learn about becoming a member.

We now offer our classes at three different price options: Regular ($200), Community Supported ($190), and Sponsor ($210). Following the models of other institutions, we want to ensure that our classes are accessible to a wider audience while continuing to support our instructors. You may choose the price that best fits your situation when registering through Learning Stream.

To register multiple people for this class, please go through the course calendar in Learning Stream, our registration platform. When you select the course and register, you’ll be prompted to add another registrant.


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