Secret-keeper discusses his project

Popular Web site PostSecret.com, and the books that go with it, allow the public to spill their secrets anonymously.

Emma Carew

Frank Warren, the 43-year-old founder of PostSecret.com, a Web site featuring anonymous postcard submissions that confess personal secrets, spoke with The Minnesota Daily about the growing success of his creation. Warren recently published the fourth PostSecret book, “A Lifetime of Secrets” that includes hundreds of never-before-seen postcard submissions.

How did you start the PostSecret Web site?

where to go

book signing events
what: Frank Warren will be siging his fourth PostSecret book, “A Lifetime of Secrets”
when: 2 p.m., today
where: Coffman Union Bookstore
ALSO AT
when: 7 p.m., today
where: Virginia Street Swedenborgian Church 170 Virginia St., St. Paul

I started the project in 2004. I passed out postcards, inviting strangers to share secrets with me and when I stopped passing out the postcards, I thought the project would be over but (chuckles) the idea of the project spread virally in the real world, and people began to hand-make their own handmade postcards, and they started coming from different states and different countries. And now I receive about a thousand postcards from around the world with secrets and artwork every week.

Why do people send you their secrets?

I think some people just want to share a funny story or a sexual taboo, but if you look at the details that some people include on their postcards, or you see the painstaking effort that people have gone through to create these works of art, I think there might be a deeper reason. Maybe some people are searching for grace or trying to understand their own secrets in a new way that makes sense to them.

How did you respond to being called the “most trusted stranger in America,” the first time you heard it? What does that mean to you?

It’s a claim. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do feel a terrific responsibility and a privilege that so many strangers – tens of thousands – have trusted me with very intimate secrets that they’ve never told their friends or family.

How do you choose which secrets to put online and in the books?

Every week, I receive about a thousand postcards with secrets and artwork on them, and I select secrets every week that surprise me or I pick secrets that share something we can all relate to that express it in a way I haven’t seen before. And every week I try to include secrets that represent the full emotional spectrum, so there will be some that are funny, some sexual, some shocking, some hopeful and I try to arrange them in a way where they’re cohesive and they tell a story about us.

In July, you took a widely publicized break from the Web site. Were you surprised by the response (as seen through the comments section, which was enabled at the time)?

Yeah, I like to experiment with the project and try new things, and that week I wanted to allow anybody who visited PostSecret.com to share their comments, and in a way, it was an exercise in transparency – so people could see the kind of e-mails I receive every week in response to the secrets.

What is your favorite secret in the new book, “Lifetime of Secrets”?

I don’t really have favorites; there are some that are just, for me, more memorable than others. I like the secrets from young people, but also the secrets from older people too – secrets that a person has been carrying for 30, 40, 50 years, most of their lives, are the most poignant. I like some of the funny ones too, there’s a secret in the book that appears to be written on instructions for assembling a desk, and the secret reads “stop telling people you build your own furniture, you buy it and then assemble it, there’s no building.” Sometimes the secrets sound as though they’re from somebody who has this hostility building up inside of them, maybe toward a spouse or a boyfriend, but they can’t express it for one reason or another. So I think PostSecret acts as an outlet for that.

There’s also another postcard I like, that says, “Dear birth mother, I found love, I’m happy, I just wanted you to know. Thank you.” I like that one a lot too. Sometimes the secrets sound as though they were written to communicate with someone who is no longer in the person’s life, and people also use PostSecret as an outlet for that too.

What does the future of the PostSecret project and community look like?

I’m just as curious about that as you. I just kind of trust the project and follow where it leads.

Although, I do plan to continue traveling to college campuses and making PostSecret presentations to students – that’s something that I find very gratifying to share these inspiring stories and listening to the secrets and stories that students share back with me.

Why are most PostScecret events usually held on college campuses?

I think that the project really resonates strongly with young people and I don’t know why. But I think young people are in that process where they are trying to discover more about themselves, and live authentic lives. I think their lives are just more interesting and exciting and vital, and because of that, secrets play a larger role.

How much longer do you think you’ll stay with the project? What would you like to do next with your life?

I don’t really think that far ahead. I spend about 30-40 hours a week on PostSecret. I’ve just been really excited about the new book coming out; I’ve been traveling around talking about that. I just continue to be fascinated by people’s secrets, even after seeing 175,000.