Heather Spooner is the founder of &LL Letter League and a true North Star. Learn more about her story plus six other incredible Northern Michigan women in celebration of International Women’s Month this March.

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The Joy Creator

Heather Spooner bristles at labels. Like, for instance, her former career teaching social studies and language arts to fifth graders. Her work painting murals and hand-lettered everything: giant wings and words of affirmation on a now Instagram-famous Front Street locale in Traverse City, a map of Leelanau Peninsula on the walls of Good Harbor Winery, a wish for a newborn on a nursery wall.

But try to label her a teacher…?

A muralist? An artist?


Heather Spooner posing in front of colorful envelopes

Photo by Courtney Kent

​I probably would never define myself by what I do. I’d probably share what I’m passionate about, and I would ask somebody else what they’re passionate about,” she says “… So if I had to distill that down to one point, it would be that I create things to connect people.”

Which is why, hot on the heels of the makers movement, after building a bevy of virtual connections through a thriving Etsy shop and Instagram following, then growing an in-person audience through art markets around Michigan and how-to workshops across the North, Spooner, in late March 2020, became very, very scared.

Michigan’s shutdown orders were on; in-person anything was off. Her young business, Ampersand Lettering Lab, the connective tissue she’d so tenderly nurtured, stitching herself to her community, her people, seemed hopelessly severed. Her murals, the markets, her workshops and downtown Traverse City studio—even the birthday party she’d been planning for her wife: “I thought it was the end of everything,” she says. “And I spent a lot of days feeling really sad.”

And then one icy April afternoon, peering into her mailbox for the daily hodgepodge collection of colorful, homemade-with-anything birthday cards she’d asked friends to send in lieu of themselves, a thought struck her: “This is the feeling that brings me the most joy of any moment in my day.”

Heather Spooner posing in front of colorful envelopes

Photo by Courtney Kent

She wondered if she could bring that feeling to other people who felt scared, sad and disconnected, too. So she marched back into the house, sat down, and pulled out her notebook.

“I wrote two pages of what it would look like if I reimagined a pen pal program through the U. S. Postal service—but for adults.”

Within two weeks, she had created the &ll Letter League, making and ordering every single supply a home-bound human would need: cards, stamps, pens, writing prompts and a questionnaire to pair people, not by gender, age or any other limiting label but by a method Spooner keeps secret, some alchemy between her gut instinct and their heartfelt answers.

Less than one hour after launching &ll Letter League, all 50 spots sold out. She’s launched 10 rounds since, connecting more than 500 pen pals around the world. (She’s since followed up with the Little Letter League, a pen pal program for kids ages 7 to 13.)

Last spring, a filmmaker in Los Angeles, Michelle Boyaner of Greenie Films, called. She’d been following Spooner’s work and wanted to make a documentary about the Letter League.

“Like any logical person does, I spent the next three days deciding if it was a scam,” says Spooner.

It wasn’t. The documentary is slated to hit film festivals this spring.

Heather Spooner posing in front of colorful envelopes

Photo by Courtney Kent

Photo(s) by Courtney Kent