Spring 2020

Letter Writing and Epistolarity

Listed in: English, as ENGL-270


Benigno R. Sanchez-Eppler (Section 01)


The participants in this course will read and write letters. We will explore the letter as a complex instrument of communication, as literary artifact, as carrier of affect, intention and ideas, and as a record of individual and communal growth. Letter writing will be experienced as a performance that deploys persona, tone, voice, purpose, persuasion and decorum. Your discoveries and the development of your thoughts will be circulated as letters written among a small circle of correspondents.

Readings will range from the letters of Paul and Erasmus, through selections from French eighteenth-century salons, plantation and emancipation correspondence, Lake District poets, twentieth-century travelers and diasporas; from Heloise and Abelard to Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller; from Galileo to Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project.

The reading of epistolary novels will focus our attention on fictional uses of the form. The current evolution of letter writing in the time of e-mail and social media will provide another frame of reference.

Capstone projects will be researched and curated presentations of selected unpublished letters from the archival holdings at Frost, Du Bois and the Jones libraries in Amherst.

Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Lecturer Benigno Sánchez-Eppler.

If Overenrolled: Preference given to senior, junior, and second-year English majors.


Artistic Practice, Attention to Research, Attention to Writing, Transnational or World Cultures Taught in English


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020, January 2021, January 2022, Spring 2022