Benedict Cumberbatch, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Fry & Others Read Letters of Hope, Love & Support During COVID-19

Though the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic has put a stop to many for­mer­ly nor­mal activ­i­ties around the world, it’s hard­ly put a stop to glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In fact, it’s almost cer­tain­ly inten­si­fied glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion, what with all the atten­tion the strug­gle against COVID-19 com­mands from 24-hour media pro­fes­sion­als — and all the time and ener­gy the rest of us have put into social media as a sub­sti­tute for social­iza­tion. But how would we have com­mu­ni­cat­ed amid a pan­dem­ic of this kind in an age before the inter­net? Assum­ing postal ser­vices remained in good work­ing order, we would, of course, have writ­ten let­ters to each oth­er.

We can still write let­ters to each oth­er in the 21st cen­tu­ry, but now we can also read them to each oth­er, wher­ev­er in the world we may be. This is the basis for the #ReadALet­ter cam­paign, which actor Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch intro­duces in the video at the top of the post. “I real­ly hope this let­ter finds you in good spir­its as we nav­i­gate our way through this tru­ly sur­re­al cri­sis, where upheaval and uncer­tain­ty are dai­ly real­i­ties,” he says, read­ing aloud a mis­sive com­posed at his home and meant for the world at large.

“But so, thank­ful­ly, is the total­ly inspir­ing self-sac­ri­fice, togeth­er­ness, courage, gen­eros­i­ty, and cama­raderie the peo­ple are exhibit­ing.” It is those hon­or­able qual­i­ties, Cum­ber­batch con­tin­ues, that “we at Let­ters Live are look­ing for a way to cel­e­brate through our favorite medi­um of the let­ter.”

You may remem­ber Let­ters Live, a series of events inspired by Let­ters of Note, from when we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Cum­ber­batch’s appear­ances there inter­pret­ing cor­re­spon­dence by the likes of Kurt Von­negut, Albert Camus, and Alan Tur­ing. The stars of Let­ters Live have hereto­fore been his­tor­i­cal­ly impor­tant let­ter-writ­ers and the skilled pro­fes­sion­al per­form­ers who read their words. But now, Cum­ber­batch says, “we want to hear you read let­ters. They can be let­ters to the heroes on the front line. They could be let­ters to rel­a­tives in need. They could be let­ters to strangers who have stepped up and made a dif­fer­ence. They could be let­ters to neigh­bor­ing fam­i­lies or streets or towns or coun­tries.” To par­tic­i­pate, you need only use a cam­era phone to record your­self read­ing a let­ter aloud, then post that video on Twit­ter or Insta­gram and send it to

What you read on cam­era (or off it, if you pre­fer) could be “an impor­tant let­ter you have always want­ed to send, or a cher­ished let­ter you once received. It could be a favorite let­ter of yours that offers hope in our cur­rent cri­sis or a pre­scient warn­ing too impor­tant to be ignored.” Here we’ve includ­ed the #ReadALet­ter videos so far con­tributed by oth­er nota­bles includ­ing Mar­garet Atwood, Stephen Fry, and Grif­fin Dunne, who reads a let­ter his father Dominick Dunne wrote when he put him­self into iso­la­tion for cre­ative pur­pos­es in 1980. Oth­er par­tic­i­pants from all walks of life include a rab­bi, a col­lege stu­dent, an emer­gency depart­ment doc­tor, and even a cou­ple of nona­ge­nar­i­ans. If you need more inspi­ra­tion to #ReadALet­ter your­self, revis­it Cum­ber­batch’s Let­ters of Live per­for­mance of Sol Lewit­t’s 1965 let­ter to Eva Hesse, the one in which he deliv­ers invalu­able words of advice: “Stop It and Just DO.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Let­ter to the High School That Burned Slaugh­ter­house-Five

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Albert Camus’ Touch­ing Thank You Let­ter to His Ele­men­tary School Teacher

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads a Let­ter Alan Tur­ing Wrote in “Dis­tress” Before His Con­vic­tion For “Gross Inde­cen­cy”

“Stop It and Just DO”: Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Advice on Over­com­ing Cre­ative Blocks, Writ­ten by Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse (1965)

An Ani­mat­ed Mar­garet Atwood Explains How Sto­ries Change with Tech­nol­o­gy

Stephen Fry Reads Oscar Wilde’s Children’s Sto­ry “The Hap­py Prince”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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  • Lonnie says:

    I can hon­est­ly say I have nev­er had any­one write me a let­ter, which is sad because I think it would be nice.

    FYI — to be fair, I have nev­er writ­ten any­one a let­ter. Maybe a post­card, but not a let­ter. This is prob­a­bly why my hand­writ­ing is so poor and even my email writ­ing could use some work.

  • Will Le says:

    Lon­nie, dear man.…you’ve nev­er writ­ten nor received per­son­al cor­re­spon­dence…?!! You are cor­rect — this is a sad sit­u­a­tion!

    I do not know your age brack­et, nor your gen­der. I made an assump­tion that “Lon­nie” is a short­ened Alonzo.…however, I’ve erred before.

    That being said, sta­tis­tics show only 1 out of 18 Lon­nie’s of the world pos­sess an XX chro­mo­some, rather than the XY us chap­pies possess.…now I say “us” inclu­sive­ly. Am I cor­rect in that usage, Lon­nie? Or are you buck­ing the trend and claim­ing to be one of the elite 5–1/2 per­cent’rs.…?

    Now I’ve become intrigued over the course of 3 sentences.…I must know!

    Either way, if you’d like to rec­ti­fy this dis­mal over­sight of yours.…nay, not over­sight, but avoid­ance. I say “avoid­ance” because I can see already you have a pletho­ra of excus­es and/or rea­sons on the stand­by to aide you in cov­er­ing up this sad postal omis­sion sit­u­a­tion impact­ing your life.

    I offer my time and expe­ri­ence to assist you if you’d like to *real­ly do some­thing* to cor­rect it.…you’d feel a real sense of accom­plish­ment after­ward, I’m sure! </:-)

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