Evolution of a Letter Writing Social
Issue   |   Tue, 09/17/2013 - 22:18
Image courtesy of Amherst College Public Affairs Office
Clara Yoon ’15 composes a letter at the first Letter Writing Social, embracing what some consider to be an antiquated mode of communication.

When most college students think of Saturday nights, we picture young co-eds dancing the night away with red Solo cups in hand. For those not so taken with the active social scene of Amherst College nightlife, AC After Dark offers a different kind of social — letter writing. Typewriter? Check. Mail box? Check. Free stuff? Triple check.

After conversing with social-goers, there seems to be a consensus that the best part of letter writing is the supplies, and there were plenty of supplies in the Friedmann Room of Keefe Campus Center on Saturday night. Buddies Justyn Pham ’14 and Crystal Yan ’14 checked out the event for different reasons (yearbook photos and fun letter writing, respectively), but both agreed that the free food and stationery are two definite perks.

“We’ve come every year since it started,” Crystal said, flipping through her newly acquired flowery envelopes and stationery. “There’s always lots of cool stationery…and it’s helpful for writing parents, you know, to keep them from freaking out.”
Free supplies and services included stationery, postcards, envelopes, wax to seal the envelope (with a hot glue gun instead of an open flame), two typewriters and art products to enhance the contents of said letters such as colored pencils, collage pictures, scissors and glue. Of course, like almost every AC After Dark event, there was a wide array of cookies, tea and coffee, but make sure to get there early, or you will miss out.

The Letter Writing Social, a concept proposed by Crista Reed DeRicco, Assistant Director of Student Activities, first made its debut in September 2011. The event was such a hit that it earned an article by Don Troop in Chronicle of Higher Education. The occasion was lauded by Amherst students, most notably so by Rohan Mazumdar ’12, who was “elated by the response Crista [Reed DeRicco] got to this event.”

Time has passed and just as Mazumdar has left (after graduating), so have the original ways of the Amherst College Letter Writing Social. The first Letter Writing Social boasted free stamps and stationery, three typewriters and inkwells and quills. The second annual Letter Writing Social was different from the first but not necessarily in a bad way. The event lacked typewriters, quills and stamps, but provided even more stationery that was replenished throughout the night, a Pen Pal sign-up station and more funky-colored pens. If you signed up for a pen pal, about a week later, you received a package with your pen pal’s AC Box number with envelopes and stationery that formulated the “pen pal kit.” This year’s event, however, while reviving two typewriters, ink wells and quills, decided to let go of the Pen Pal Station and began running low on envelopes about an hour into the event.

This year’s affair, shortened from the debut duration of four to three hours, still had a good turnout, according to AC After Dark intern, Briana Wiggins ’15.

“I honestly didn’t expect this many people to show up. I mean, every table is filled,” Wiggins said. “That’s good, right?”
Though Wiggins is currently a junior, she sheepishly admitted it was her first Letter Writing Social, both in attendance and supervision. I stuck close to her throughout the evening, watching the event from her viewpoint. There were noticeable times during the event when Wiggins was overwhelmed by details ranging from the lack of envelopes to the disarray at the wax sealing station to the hard-to-operate-but-still-fancy Keurig coffee machines. However, at other times, her reactions mirrored the first-years’ excitement, such as upon finding the plethora of “Doctor Who” postcards and ostrich-themed thank you cards or upon taking photos with the newest addition to the event, the Fujifilm Instax Mini Camera. Positioned next to the mailbox, after penning a short letter to Mom and Pop (“Hey folks, I’m still alive! Send me money?”), one could snap a quick picture of themselves (“See Mom? Proof that I am well. Ignore the pizza love handles”) to include in the envelope. The white device slides out a short strip of film that develops within one minute or so. Judging by the empty film canisters and giggles of students as the camera flashed and clicked, this was definitely a favorite of many, if not all.

While the Letter Writing Social has changed much since its inauguration, not all of the modifications are misses. Rather, many are hits. Would regular social-goers appreciate free postage so we can send letters at our leisure? We certainly wouldn’t turn them down! However, who can really argue with the joy on a first-comer’s face as they pore over the table of stationery or beam at the excitement of sending letters to high school friends and relatives? In the end, it doesn’t matter that participants come for the free stuff; what matters is that they stay for the art of letter writing.

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