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This New Anthology Redefines What a Love Letter Can Be

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Little Wolf Collective

What started as a small social-media project to spread some joy and relief following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmed Arbery, and Breonna Taylor is now a book featuring celebrated Black writers and thinkers. Conceived of and co-edited by Natalie Johnson, Black Love Letters assembles missives and illustrations exploring and celebrating Black love — and not just the romantic kind. This week on the In Her Shoes podcast, Johnson spoke with Cut editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples about the many different manifestations of love the anthology explores through letters written by Dr. Imani Perry, Tarana Burke, John Legend, New York Magazine’s own Tembe Denton-Hurst, and more.

Listen and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also read highlights from the interview below.

On what inspired the themes of the book:

bell hooks has this amazing quote in All About Love about what constitutes love, and it’s a combination of care, accountability, and romance at times. So we were trying to think about, Where does love show up? We started with care as one layer, and started to build onto them, like with transformation, ambivalence, and loss. We wanted those to represent the different manifestations and layers of love and places that love can be found.

On the letter she’s currently rereading the most:

I have been returning lately to this letter [in the book] by the poet Mahogany Brown about her relationship with her sister. She has this beautiful line about how sister-ships are so important because they set the stage for how you relate to other people and how you show love to other people. She had a strained relationship with her sister, and there’s a lot of potential in their relationship that she was looking to and hoping to improve on. And that was an important letter because it was talking about love, not just in the kind of rosy sense and “everything is happy and wonderful,” but in the hard, transformative sense, places where love still needs to be worked on and still needs to be recognized. 

On her hopes for the legacy of the book:

My hope has always been that the book can be interactive and that people read this book and resonate with at least one thing — however small or however large — and that they’re encouraged to write their own love letters. I would love for people to pick this up and consider who their love letter is to or who they want to share some love with.

The Cut

A weekly audio magazine exploring culture, style, sex, politics, and more.

This New Anthology Redefines What a Love Letter Can Be