As is with many visitors, there was something indefinable but appealing about Hope Gutwrench’s first hours in New Orleans.
“The magic of long-armed trees reaching over the streets, the thick air, the warmth of the people. I love the slow pace of July, the stupid heat and sudden showers and realizing you just have to slow down,” she said.
A transplant in New Orleans from New Hampshire — states similar in a way, both seemingly living by the motto “Live Free or Die” — Gutwrench has a way with words.
Arriving in 2002, she started as a ‘zine writer, making small photocopied books of personal stories and poetry. Then, in 2005, after Katrina, while spending a lot of her time helping friends gut and rebuild houses, she was offered an eight week-stay at Penland School of Crafts to print woodblocks and write.
In 2008 she applied to the LSU art department, hearing they had letterpress equipment, and moved to Baton Rouge for school. This is where the “Keep Writing” project was started.
“Keep Writing” is a monthly postcard subscription in which Gutwrench designs and prints a folded letterpress card comprised of two postcards — one is a postcard for the recipient to keep, and the other poses a relevant question. The second card has space on one side for a response and is mailed back to Gutwrench. The project, like much of Gutwrench’s work, explores connections to hometowns.
“I moved a lot in my twenties,” Gutwrench said. “I travelled, made friends in lots of different places, wrote letters, had penpals. The fascination originated as a search for what home might be, what it might look like.”
As “Keep Writing” approaches its 10-year anniversary, Gutwrench has been working with a different collaborator each month. Sometimes it’s a letterpress printer, a designer or illustrator, or sometimes it’s a writer or another artist.
In December 2017, Gutwrench partnered with ceramic artist Roberta Massuch, who creates functional and sculptural work that investigates space and shadow, overlap and threshold. Gutwrench printed one of her drawings on one side, and on the other wrote a prompt asking the recipient to write a letter “to themselves on the other side” — whether that meant to themself on the other side of death, the new year, a difficult situation, anything.
Gutwrench receives 20-50 responses each month. She posts them all on a tumblr site (keepwritingpostcards.tumblr.com) and shares them on her Instagram @gutwrenchpress. For the 10th anniversary in the fall, Gutwrench will host an art show with all the responses, here in New Orleans — the place she’s now sure is what home looks like.