Intimate strangers: dialogue and creativity in penfriend correspondence

Maybin, Janet (2011). Intimate strangers: dialogue and creativity in penfriend correspondence. In: Swann, Joan; Pope, Rob and Carter, Ronald eds. Creativity in Language and Literature: the state of the art. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 129–140.




Focussing on a corpus of penfriend correspondences, this chapter argues that language creativity in this context is intensely dialogic, and that creativity at the level of text is intimately connected with creativity in the building of relationship and extension of the self. Dialogic patterns of address and response are traced across letters between six men on death row in the United States, and their penfriends in England. Creativity involved in the practice of letter writing, the design of the letters as artefacts and the writers’ poetic and playful uses of language and genre are considered in relation to the particular context of this correspondence, and the development of relationships between the writers. Processes of projection and mirroring reported by the penfriends are similar to those which have been found in virtual relationships developed on the Internet. Textual analysis suggests that each correspondence developed its own distinctive creative profile, where creative language served both expressive and interactional purposes, and at the same time generated a dialogic network of connections across the correspondence which created coherence and strengthened the writers’ relationship.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions