Open Letter, Open Book
In their new title, September Letters, Jaspre Guest and Brittany Snow make the case for people being radically vulnerable. They’ll start.
In May 2021, actor Brittany Snow lost her dog, an 11-year-old terrier mix called Billie. “I didn’t think I was going to feel [that] much pain,” Snow says, two years on. “I felt like I was going to lose it.” Her close friend Jaspre Guest had lost her own dog, a Pomeranian called Papaya, in June 2020. “I remember Brittany calling and being like, ‘How did you do this? I don’t understand how you did this,’” Guest says. “It was cataclysmic… [we grieved] a whole symbolic journey of our lives as young women with these familiars.”
The shared loss represented a personal evolution for the pair. “I think that was one of the seminal foundation building blocks of Jaspre and I being there for each other,” Snow says. “We had a connected story.” It’s this dynamic — connection through shared experience — that forms the inspiration for their nearly 3-year-old online community, September Letters. The premise — that people can read and write letters sharing their experiences — is inspired by Snow’s own journey toward recovery. “Sometimes sending a letter is more for you than it is for the other person,” Snow says. “The self-care and the act of writing it is just as important as whoever receives it.” The latest offering from the pair, a hardback book by the same name, provides a structural guide for the process, as well as mental health resources and interviews with experts like grief counselor David Kessler.
“We didn’t really set out to write a book,” Guest says. “We set out to make a journal.” The finished article speaks to some of that earlier DNA; pages are filled with handwritten notes from the authors as well as short first-person letters from friends like Kid Cudi, Joel McHale, and the cast of Pitch Perfect. Still, at its heart, it’s a functional text. “I think that we all have this deep desire to rationalize… To absorb why things are happening and [find out] how to move forward,” Guest adds. “Our deepest wish is that the book becomes a tool in your toolbox.”
Going forward, the pair would like to create more moments for connecting with their community in real life, as well as develop a TV show. (Snow’s first effort as writer-director, Parachute, premiered at SXSW in March 2023 to impressive reviews and two award wins.) For now, though, they’re focused on September Letters, which has been fittingly dedicated to Papaya and Billie. “It was sort of the all-encompassing idea of September Letters,” Snow says. “Having a shared experience that you can both help someone through.”
Charlotte: The book talks a lot about listening to your gut, but I think one of the challenges with stressful situations, or even anxiety and depression, is that your gut can sometimes tell you, No, run away, when it shouldn’t. I wonder how you both navigate that.
Brittany: Someone told me once that the way to trust your gut and decipher between the two is to tap into [if] there’s any fear attached to what your gut is telling you. Because your gut is never doing anything out of fear or ego. And so if you’re like, Oh, I need to do this or else this will happen, then it’s probably ego or fear. With this book, I’m more excited than fearful. Maybe because this isn’t my normal medium. I’m much more fearful of my career and things like that.
Jaspre: That saying “emotions are guideposts” was really relevant to this. I come in from a place where I always have to say yes and make things happen, but with Brittany, I’ve really learned the power of no and pausing.
Charlotte: Reading the book, I found myself thinking of a few letters that I regret sending, and some that I regret holding onto. I wonder if that’s the case for either of you.
Brittany: Regretting sending letters is my middle name. It’s like, Brittany — Oh my God, why did I do that? — Snow. Like, that’s, that’s how I live my life. [Laughs.] This morning we were talking about meditation, and it’s something that I really need to actually start thinking about seriously, because I think a huge lesson for me in my life, and probably one of my most sought-after New Year’s resolutions, is to really get into a practice of pausing. Jaspre thinks I’m good at it, but it’s because I have to practice it so often. But I’m working on it.
Charlotte: Do you still face challenges now? How do you manage your mental health lately even with recovery and all the work you do in this space?
Brittany: I definitely still face challenges. In the past year I went through probably the hardest mental health challenge I’ve ever faced. In one day, in a matter of hours, my life turned completely upside down. I was blindsided and every thing I thought I knew, held sacred and truly trusted in my life was completely different. A couple days later my grandmother passed away and I think every thing I knew about mental health was tested. Thank god for my friends. I don’t know if I would have made it without them. They reminded me who I was and the things I stood for. I used all the tools I knew. All of them.
Charlotte: Jaspre, in your letter you wrote about your health experiences as a child. We’re now at this point where we realize how often women are living with chronic health conditions, without the same support as men. Has letter writing helped you process some of those feelings?
Jaspre: I was chronically ill, with sinus and ear [issues] and all of these things, from 2 till my early 20s, and I never really processed it. And so when I had to sit down and write the letter, it took a while. But it oddly did actually really help me look back and heal that part of [myself]. I didn’t want to do the audiobook and I was trying to give every part to Brittany, and then the director said, “Oh, we have the easy part now, it’s your letter.” And I said, “This is the worst part!” To read my own letter, to hear my own words out loud, was a trippy moment.
Charlotte: One thing that I thought was really striking in that first letter is that you guys talk about September being a time of choosing to start again. As women, it often feels really hard to choose ourselves. Why do you think that is?
Brittany: As a society, we’ve been told for many, many years that we have to do things in order to prove our worth. I always looked up to my mom for being such a strong woman and she always carried her own bags. No one helped her at the airport. No one helped her take her groceries out to the car. She could do it all, and I think she passed that on to me. But a lesson that I’ve had to learn is that it’s OK to ask for help. It doesn’t make you less of a strong woman if you ask someone to help you bring your bag in.
Charlotte: I was struck by how much humor is in the book, too. Did you enter the project knowing you wanted there to be levity?
Brittany: We didn’t. That’s what’s been really cool about putting together this book. Especially with the Kid Cudi letter [and] Joel McHale’s letter, or any of my friends. I didn’t give them any sort of guidelines, which I think now looking back maybe I should have. But I wanted this book to speak to them and for them to write about their mental health journey and whatever they needed to say. We didn’t take out anything from anyone’s letters. Joel McHale says sh*t about 80 times. [Laughs.] That’s an exaggeration, but I think it is [there] like 20 times.
Charlotte: I was prompted to go onto the website recently when I read Anna Camp’s letter and obviously it was incredibly moving. I was reading the comments underneath, and they were so special. How do you go about curating that space?
Brittany: That’s the most incredible part of September Letters — the connection and community this has created. As a realist, sometimes I thought to myself, Oh, if we leave the comment section on, people are going to say negative things. I get chills thinking that there haven’t really been any negative comments.
Jaspre: Brittany and I speak about this a lot; social media is fake. There’s a huge facade and it’s super triggering and everything that’s on there feels not the way it should be. It was meant to be a place of connection and now it has morphed into this very disturbing landscape.
Charlotte: September Letters is about sharing experiences, but Brittany, being in the public eye, I’m sure there are things that you don’t want to talk about with people yet. How do you handle that?
Brittany: There’s this sort of self-protective mechanism that happens to me when I’m not ready [or] I don’t have enough perspective on something [and] it’s hard to talk about. I think that’s maybe a healthy thing, but there are some things that I’ve been really vocal about that I’m glad I shared, but I also feel got turned into salacious fluff. It wasn’t used in the right way, and that just made me really sad and feeling a little bit misunderstood. There’s just some things that are still seen as vain or misunderstood or attention-seeking. I’m very vocal about mental health and depression, anxiety, and eating disorder awareness, and yet I have a photo shoot where I’m like, I really like this picture, I think I look pretty cool, [but] it’s something that might be triggering to someone. And then I feel awful about that.
Charlotte: I loved that you included a double-page spread dedicated to your Pitch Perfect castmates, which has also recently been the top movie on Netflix.
Brittany: I know, I saw that. I was like, what the heck? It’s so long [ago].
Charlotte: Why was it important to circle back to those friendships?
Brittany: It was important because it’s legitimate and it’s real. As you know — as a publicist, Jaspre knows this better than anybody — but when you’re promoting a movie, it’s always like, “Oh, we’re all best friends and we all love each other” because that helps sell the movie. But in this case, we really were, we really did get to become close friends, if not family. The last year has been really tricky for me, and one of the girls, I just, you know, opened up her door and I just fell down to the ground and just cried and laid there. And she basically nursed me back to health for like four days. And it wasn’t the one that I thought was going to be able to do that, either. I think that’s what’s really important about this book, knowing that a thing you can have in your toolkit is a community of friends that will just sit with you on the floor. They don’t need to give you advice. They don’t need to fix it for you. They just are there.
Charlotte: Finally, tell me about your friendship. How do you communicate? Do you write one another letters?
Brittany: I unfortunately call Jaspre for everything. Like, from “How do I work this new juicer?” to “Do you have a psychic that I can call?” to, like, “This boy was mean to me.” It’s a lot of texting. But I think we have the best sort of working relationship where what she can do, I truly cannot do, and I can handle some stuff that she doesn’t want to do.
Jaspre: It’s such a cool moment, for how much we plan in life… there’s still the magic of life that interferes. I find this relationship is very kismet and we just have something that we both didn’t plan on. We write each other letters on the shared note thing all the time. It’s just nice to have support. I can tell the truth completely, and there’s no sugarcoating it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photographs by Alec Kugler