When two Cornell University Library staffers heard comedian Conan O’Brien talk in his podcast about a letter he sent to famed author E.B. White nearly 40 years ago, they had a thought: What if that note from the then-16-year-old O’Brien was among the 25,000 letters in the library’s E.B. White Collection?
Maureen Morris and Rob Kotaska of Olin Library’s Research and Learning Services – both avid listeners of “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” – were touched by O’Brien’s account of his correspondence with White, a 1921 Cornell graduate, who had replied with encouraging advice.
“You could really tell the exchange with E.B. White was special to Conan,” Morris said. “We were excited to get a copy of [O’Brien’s] own letter back to him.”
Library colleagues voluntarily banded together to go through White’s fan letters.
“We were so excited to find Conan’s letter in the 13th or 14th box we searched,” said Katherine Reagan, the Ernest L. Stern Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.
“E. B. White not only wrote beautiful stories and essays, but he was generous in the care he took to write back to his fans, particularly young people,” Reagan said. “Luckily, he also saved the letters he received, along with most of his replies.”
The library shared the letter with O’Brien, who posted it on social media.
“That Conan got to see his own letter again was great in itself,” Morris said, “but the fact that he shared it and E.B. White’s letter with the world was really special.”
– Jose Beduya