Every week for the past three years, around a thousand people whose names Frank Warren will never know have confessed their deepest, darkest secrets to him.
One of the featured authors at this year’s Arkansas Literary Festival, Warren is the founder and curator of PostSecret (http://postsecret.blogspot.com). One of the largest and most widely read blogs on the Internet, the site is a kind of public art project. Strangers mail Warren secrets they’ve never confided in anyone else, often on wildly creative, self-made postcards. Warren then posts selections from the week’s haul on the PostSecret blog.
Warren said the website and the three best-selling books it has spawned are an outgrowth of a project he did in November 2004 for the Art-o-Matic show in Washington, D.C. Struggling at the time with a secret of his own (which he wouldn’t reveal… that’s why they call them “secrets”), he printed up 3,000 stamped postcards, all labeled with his home address. He then handed them out to show visitors, inviting them to anonymously share a secret they had never told anyone else. Warren said he received around 100 postcards, which he posted at the show. When Art-o-Matic ended, he expected the project to end as well.
“I stopped handing out the postcards, and I thought that’d be the end of the project. But the project wasn’t finished with me somehow,” he said. “Word of the idea kind of spread virally across the country and around the world.”
Since then, Warren has received over 300,000 secrets, most on handmade and often artfully embellished postcards (though he has received secrets written on everything from restaurant receipts to run-of-the-mill trash). He posts around 15 examples a week on the PostSecret blog.
Like secrets themselves, the revelations Warren receives run the gamut of human emotion: funny, sad, horrifying, sexual, and heartbreakingly poignant. Asked if he has any favorites from among the thousands of secrets he has seen over the years, he said two come to mind. The first was a postcard of the Twin Towers in New York City, which said, “Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I’m dead.” The other was scrawled across a flattened Starbucks cup, which had been carefully labeled with his address, stamped, and mailed across the country. “I give decaf to customers who are rude to me,” the author wrote.
Warren said the people are often amazed to hear that submitters create the tiny works of artwork seen on the website. He said the artistic side of most of the postcards he receives allows people to add another emotional dimension to their work.
“When you talk about secrets, sometimes you’re talking about feelings or experiences that are difficult for us to admit about ourselves,” he said. “But when you can put those feelings into a drawing or a picture, it lets you communicate more about yourself than you normally would verbally.”
After three years of overseeing the PostSecret project, Warren said he feels as if he has accidentally tapped into something full of wonder and mystery.
“Many of us — probably all of us — have these rich interior lives that we don’t get a chance to share with other people,” he said. “Lives filled with drama and frailty and heroism that is never seen. … I think there’s an artist in all of us.”
Frank Warren will give a free presentation about the PostSecret project at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 21, in the Darragh Center of the Main Library.