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Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American author who has published 18 books, including works of fiction, non-fiction, and memoir. She is one of the best-known female writers in Latin America, and[…]

Some of Isabel Allende’s best fiction has been inspired by private correspondence. Yet as Twitter replaces the letter, she fears that we’re losing “the beauty of language.”

Question: Why did you base “The House of the Spirits” rnand other books on letters you’d written?

Isabel Allende:rn Although in the book it doesn’t appear like a letter, I think in terms rnof letters because I write to my mother every day.  And I have been rnwriting letters to my mother for... I don’t know, 40 years?  So, I have arn closet full of her letters, and she gives me back my letters at the endrn of the year.  So, I have a record of life, day-by-day, in these rnletters.  So, for me it's so easy and natural to start telling a story rnto my mother, having in mind that we are, like, in the kitchen, and I amrn writing to my mother.  It’s much easier than if I think, "Oh my God, rnthis is going to be published and millions of people are going to read rnit."  No, that’s scary.

Do you write to your mother at the beginning or the end ofrn the day?

Isabel Allende: It depends.  It depends on the rncircumstances.  Generally, I do it at the beginning of the day and I rntell her about the previous day.  That gets me in the mood of starting rnthe day.  So, I have my coffee, and I go to my casita in the back of my rnhouse, and there I sit down and light a candle.  The first thing when I rnopen the computer is my mother's letter.

What are we losing as letter-writing grows less common?

Isabel Allende: The beauty of language, to begin with.  rnLanguage has become... everything is summarized, contracted, and it rnis... the idea is to pass information that sometimes is useless.  Why dorn I need to know that you had a hamburger for lunch?  Who cares?  And so,rn Twittering and blogging and all that is fine, but there is no idea of rnhow to phrase something beautifully; how to use language to create an rnemotion.  It’s just passing information and sometimes very superficial rninformation. 

So in letter writing, it was an art.  You would rnlearn handwriting beautifully, it had to be clear and beautiful, rnchoosing the paper, you had... your mind would work with your hand to rncreate a sentence that was balanced and beautiful, and my mother writes rnlike that to this day.  I can’t do it anymore.  I can’t write by hand.

Recorded on May 3, 2010
rnInterviewed by Priya George