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NPR Arts and Life

'Letters Of Note' Finds Lessons In Candid Correspondence

SHAUN USHER: (Reading) Dear Sir, I like words. I like fat, buttery words.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

That's one way to start a cover letter. The author of this letter was a man named Robert Pirosh. The reader is Shaun Usher. He's editor of a blog and book called "Letters Of Note." And this week, we'll hear readings from that collection. Now, Usher finds letters in archives, attics and libraries, notes from historical figures and everyday people - people like Robert Pirosh, who is trying to land his dream job in 1934 in the middle of the Great Depression. We'll let Shaun Usher tell the rest of the story.

USHER: This guy was a copywriter in the U.S. and he wanted to become a screenwriter. So he wrote a standard form job application letter and sent it to all the directors, producers, movie studios he could find the addresses for, and it got him a job. And he went on to win an Oscar for one of his screenplays called "Battleground," starring Groucho Marx. So it's just the loveliest story that the letter itself is a joy to read and I would love to read it out. Here it is. (Reading) Dear Sir, I like words. I like fat, buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, gluttonous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, precuneus, valedictory. I like spurious, black-as-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demimonde. I like suave V words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land's-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp. I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around. I have just returned and I still like words. May I have a few with you? Robert Pirosh.

That's my current favorite. I just think it's completely perfect.

CORNISH: That cover letter from Robert Pirosh landed him a job as a junior writer at MGM. The reader was Shaun Usher, editor of the book "Letters Of Note." Over the next few days, we'll hear more readings from that collection. In the meantime, you can share with us your letters of note, a letter that's meaningful to you. We'll be sharing them on Facebook. Our page is NPRATC. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.