The recent Letters Live event at London’s Freemasons’ Hall featured a huge array of thespians and authors taking to the stage to celebrate all that is wonderful about literary correspondence.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Gillian Anderson, Hanif Kureishi, Jude Law, Mariella Frostrup and Olivia Colman were just some of the stars who took part. What was unique about the show was that each lineup remained a secret until the night itself.
Anyone lucky enough to have a ticket for the March 12 performance would have been treated to a reading from writer and feminist activist Moran, who performed a heartfelt open letter she wrote “to the girls I meet at my book signings.”
The Telegraph criticised Moran’s choice of reading, saying she was the only one who “missed the point” of the event by not selecting a letter from history and instead going “with an open letter to teenage girls penned by herself that also seemed to serve as a deplorable plug for her second novel How To Build A Girl.”
In fact, the letter is part of Moran’s third book, Moranifesto, which was released around the time of Letters Live. So, yes, perhaps it’s true that she used the platform for not entirely selfless means.
By comparison, Carey Mulligan read suffragette Bertha Brewster’s 1913 letter to the Daily Telegraph, and Maureen Lipman shared a heart-wrenching letter Katharine Hepburn wrote to her married lover Spencer Tracy 18 years after his death.
But whatever. Moran’s is a fantastic letter and one every teenage girl (and boy) should read. More than once.
“I can tell instantly as when you step up, darling. I know. The posture, the sleeves over the hands, something in your eyes — you the girls who are struggling right now,” it begins.
“Some of you are hard and tense with overeating. Others, anorexic, feel like starving baby birds when I hug you — a handful of brittle bamboo canes. Maybe your arms are furious with criss-cross razor lines, or studs in your ear, your nose, your tongue, where you have tried to reclaim your bodies from something, or someone, with the snap of a piercing gun.”
A powerful start that may be upsetting for some to hear or read, but typical of Moran’s straight-to-the-point approach.
Within the letter is wonderful advice for teenage girls — Moran’s promise “that we only ever have to face the next minute.” (It’s not only good advice for teenagers, in that we would all benefit from trying a little harder to simply exist in the here and now.)
Moran also says a beautiful thing by suggesting girls can be their own mothers: “Pretend you are your own baby. You would never cut that baby, or starve it, or overfeed it until it cried in pain, or tell it it was worthless. Sometimes, girls have to be mothers to themselves. Your body wants to live — that’s all and everything it was born to do. […] Protect it.”
The most important thing, according to Moran, is “to know that you were not born like this. You were not born scared and self-loathing and overwhelmed. Things have been done — which means things can be undone. It is hard work. But you are not scared of hard work, compared with everything else you have dealt with. Because what you must do right now, and for the rest of your life, is learn how to build a girl. You.”
Read Caitlin Moran’s open letter to teenage girls in full here.