Reading Writing

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A delightful, short essay at Atlas Obscura describes how handwriting in colonial America was packed with information about the profession, or trade, and class of the penman/woman. Reading was considered spiritual, and taught separately from writing, which was highly self-conscious, revealing, and practical:

Thanks to the rigorous teachings of professionals called “penmen,” merchants wrote strong, loopy logbooks, women’s words were intricate and shaded, and upper-class men did whatever they felt like.


Kirstin Allio is currently a Howard Foundation Fellow at Brown University. Her story collection, Clothed, Female Figure comes out with Dzanc in 2016. Her novel, Garner (Coffee House), was a finalist for the LA Times Book Award for First Fiction. She has received the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” Award, a PEN/O. Henry Prize, and has published many short stories, poems, and essays. More from this author →