Stars give voice to historic letters at literacy fundraising event


If letters "cast powerful spells", then actress Noma Dumezweni enchanted an audience with her reading of a deaf-blind author's letter describing the Empire State Building.

The Dirty Pretty Things actress read Helen Keller's 1932 missive to a doctor, describing being "whizzed" up the tower and how constant darkness makes you realise "how divine a thing vision is".

It was one of a series of historic letters read by a string of famous actors, musicians and writers at Freemasons' Hall in London on Tuesday night.

Veteran actor Michael Palin drew a roar of laughter when reading a producer's letter on making cuts from Monty Python And The Holy Grail to secure an appropriate age rating, recounting: "I would like to retain 'fart in your general direction'."

Not to be outdone, Jude Law put on his best American accent to read Frank Sinatra's attack on a "pimp" Chicago newspaper columnist whose "source of information stinks".

Inspired by Shaun Usher's best-selling Letters Of Note series and Simon Garfield's book To The Letter, Letters Live sees actors and performers reading out literary correspondence to a live audience.

The event was first held in December 2013 and is now established as a sell-out fixture.

It has since travelled to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Los Angeles and even the Calais Jungle.

It was started by the publishing house Canongate to raise money for literacy charities and to celebrate the "pain, joy, wisdom and humour" of the written word.

Charities supported by the event - which runs for five nights from October 4 to 8 - include the Ministry of Stories, Help Refugees and First Story.

Canongate chief executive Jamie Byng said: "Letters cast powerful spells. When you sort thoughts into the written word, you suspend thoughts in time."

Other speakers included comedian Omid Djalili, actor Charlie Heaton and satirist Julian Clary.