A Lovely Epistolary Evening

Article excerpt

Nobody read Shakespeare's sonnets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning or anything beginning with "Roses are red . . . "

But Wednesday's sold-out annual reading of Love Letters for Literacy at the New Zealand Embassy still managed to be both literary and, well, romantic.

Surrounded by sprays of red roses and balloons, author and former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin read verses by his wife, poet Ruth Boorstin.

William Raspberry, columnist for The Washington Post, recited several sweet poems by Walter Benton, while National Public Radio commentator Susan Stamberg chose some decidedly un-mushy lines by Ogden Nash to his kids.

"I thought it would be odd," she admitted during the chocolates-and-champagne reception beforehand. "Shakespearean sonnets are too hard to read out loud."

"I tried very hard to find a love lyric about the America's Cup," the host, New Zealand Ambassador John Wood, joked to the crowd, "but I failed. Dennis Connor fails to inspire the muse." He chose a piece by kiwi poet A.R.D. Fairburn instead.

As emcee, former Rep. Jimmy Symington had the unenviable task of working out the kinks in the embassy sound system. Then, to close the reading, he sang a trio of tremulous love ballads. But it was love letters, read by a pair of couples, that provided the emotional high point to the evening, which benefited the Washington Literacy Council.

Jim Lehrer, news anchor of "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" on PBS, and his wife, Kate, read an elaborate 1786 love letter written by Thomas Jefferson, then in Paris, to one Maria Cosway, a married woman 17 years his junior. …