Women of Letters Reviewed


Diana Chan
The Comedy Local

Once a month, Women of Letters, a literary event founded in Australia, gathers together a group of women writers at Joe’s Pub to celebrate the lost art of letter writing. Each month presents a different theme, and for April, six accomplished women writers wrote a letter to their “boiling points.”

Hosted by Sofija Stefanovic, April’s Women of Letters kicked off with Upright Citizens Brigade comedian and writer Akilah Hughes.  Hughes’ boiling points revolved around the several drawbacks of living in New York City, including pregnant women expecting help with their strollers down the subway steps, conductors who shut the doors on you right when you get down to the train, and getting your period early at a comedy show.

Award winning journalist and author of The Oyster War: The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics and the Future of Wilderness in America Summer Brennan began her boiling point letter recounting the Story of Ferdinand, about a bull who refuses the matador’s attempt at violence. For Brennan, the boiling point isn’t about anger, but about passion and what makes us get up and move on to better things.  Brennan’s first bubbling of her boiling point occurred after she graduated and felt the need to do something drastic, so she went to Pakistan.  After seeing the world through such a different vantage point, she knew she couldn’t go back to her ordinary life and back to being an oblivious person.  She reached her boiling point, and that’s how she found the fire that sparked her driving force in life.

The central character in Adelle Waldman‘s boiling point letter was the state of Arizona.  The acclaimed author of The Love Affairs of Nathanial P. holds a soft spot for Tuscan, as the city she chose to escape to when she felt that New York City’s inauthenticity was overwhelming her.  On a trip to Scottsdale to visit her in-laws, she felt that her mother-in-law, as a Scottsdale elitist if there were such a thing, would end up looking down on Tuscan.  But halfway through her visit, Waldman realized she was prescribing imaginary characteristics onto her mother-in-law for no reason, and found that she was anticipating offense before experiencing actual offense.  Waldman later explained that she found it difficult to pinpoint a specific boiling point in her life, but the concept of “anticipated versus actual offense” garnered such an electric reaction from the audience made it very clear that it wasn’t an isolated experience – we’ve all been guilty of doing the exact same thing.

Stand up comedian and writer Jena Friedman wrote a letter to her future daughter, who as a “younger and more attractive version of [her]self,” would clearly be her future boiling point.  Friedman’s very funny letter included bits about her perceived strained relationship with daughter, and eventually ventured into the absurd, through her vivid and elaborate construction of a futuristic world.

Elissa Schappel, novelist and contributing editor to Vanity Fair, wrote a letter to the idea of male entitlement in writing.  Her satiric letter revolved around the rules in which “perfect girls” could be as great as men, just by being better, more interesting, and smarter than men, and by ignoring the stories of women.  Schappel received a round of applause while venting her frustration that women have live up to their gendered expectations and are routinely critiqued for their life choices.

The last letter of the night was read by lyricist, writer, and entertainer Jean Grae, who, instead of denouncing her boiling point, wrote an ode to it, viewing it as a teammate she partners up with when she wants people to know that they should never fuck with her.  Grae gave several examples of aggravating moments, including when one of her mean fans tried to embarrass one of her nice fans.  She stuck up for the nice fan, and in general, always tries to do the right thing.  Her boiling point is a hero to her; she embraces it because it provides a helpful “barrier between [her]self and homicide.”  It’s hard to disagree.

“Boiling points” was a great theme for Women of Letters this month, as New York City is currently transitioning from a cruel extended winter into the glimmer of hope in spring.  It felt very symbolic to hear these women expel their frustrations into the universe to hopefully turn over a new leaf into spring.  Now if only the weather would cooperate.

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