April 29, 2008

PostSecret Creator Frank Warren Spills His Own

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Eyebrows were raised and tears were dropped equally this past Thursday when Frank Warren, the creator of PostSecret.com, shared a selection of secrets during his visit to Bailey Hall.
PostSecret began in 2004. Since then, Warren has received over 200,000 post cards from anonymous contributors. He recently published his fourth book of secrets and his website has raised over $200,000 for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-SUICIDE). Before the show, The Sun chatted with Warren about the secrets behind PostSecret.
The Sun: So why speak at colleges?
Frank Warren: I think that young people have the most amazing secrets. I think they’re at a point in their lives when they’re the most vital and exploring and searching for authenticity.
The Sun: Do you think people are more candid when they’re younger?
F.W.: I think that this generation is drawing the line differently between what they keep private and what they’re courageous enough to share publicly. And I think you see that at the PostSecret website and at events like this — older people will come and they won’t understand what’s happening because that didn’t take place in their generation. There is something that’s happening in the world right now, the internet, the web, the social networks allow young people to feel like they can express more of their private selves in a way that they feel comfortable.
The Sun: A lot of websites promoting anonymous user-comments like JuicyCampus.com have received slack recently. Do you think there is a responsibility that comes with owning up to your secrets?
F.W.: PostSecret is not laissez-faire. I’ve specifically tried to create a safe, non-judgmental place where people can share these private confessions and fears and hopes in a way where they know they’re not going to be judged or ridiculed. And I think that’s an important part of the project. It allows strangers to feel like they can trust me with things they’ve never told a soul before.
The Sun: What’s the selection process like?
F.W.: I get about a 1,000 post cards every week. I’m always looking for secrets that surprise me — that I haven’t seen before. Every week I try to select secrets that express all the different parts of our emotional beings. So, every week there’s going to be at least one funny secret, philosophical secret, sexual secret, hopeful secret. And then I try and arrange them in a way where there are connections between the secrets, almost as if your being told a story.
The Sun: That’s something I noticed in the most recent book: a clear theme or at least a story arc.
F.W.: I do think of the project as a different kind of story telling. But I don’t really see myself as a writer — more as a film editor. I am taking these different scenes from people’s lives and knitting them together, connecting them using literary techniques, visual techniques and sometimes just random connections. But in a way that hopefully does lead you emotionally from one point at the beginning to some place very different place at the end.
The Sun: What are some of your favorite films or filmmakers?
F.W.: I have one of my secrets in every book, so I guess you could say that’s in homage to Hitchcock, right?
The Sun: I was reading on the message board today that people want you to write a “war book.” Is this something that you have considered?
F.W.: That’s the first I’ve heard of it. I’ll have to think about that for a while. I do get a lot of secrets from soldiers and from the families of soldiers.
The Sun: Do you think what you’re doing is at all political?
F.W.: I think secrets can reflect ideology and I try to stay as far away from that as I can. I think that religion and politics are some of the reasons we keep secrets. One of my goals every week is to not allow anybody to know what my own beliefs might be — I want the secrets to transcend all of that. And I think that secrets do. I never want to see the postcards used for political or religious purposes. I feel very strongly about that. And I don’t think people sending in their secrets want to see the project used in a way like that.
The Sun: What’s the craziest thing that has happened at a PostSecret event?
F.W.: Did you hear about the time I was speaking and everybody in the audience took all of their clothes off?
The Sun: No …
F.W.: No — I’m just making that one up!
The Sun: What is your writing process like?
F.W.: It’s really difficult, first of all, to judge the secrets to go in a book. I don’t like judging the secrets. I try and create little tableaus on the pages, on the spreads, where the secrets are almost having a dialogue with each other. So, every time your turn a page I want you not just to hear these individual voices speaking through the post cards but almost feel like you’re ease-dropping on this conversation between anonymous strangers. I’ve never expressed it before, but that’s how it feels.
The Sun: It is amazing how different all of the secrets are, but how they’re united at the same time.
F.W.: They’re as different as fingerprints, but at a deeper level they really reveal how there is this commonality between us all. And we sometimes forget that.
The Sun: Do you think that’s definitely true of all the secrets you see, or do you think that’s reflective of how you select them?
F.W.: I think that’s true for all the secrets. But maybe my selection enhances that, I don’t know — because that’s how I feel. So maybe my sensibilities are impacting the selection a little bit there.
The Sun: Do you think selecting secrets affects the project in any way?
F.W.: I do feel like I bring my own values and sensitivity to the selection process, even though I try and be as objective as I can. But I’m sure I have blind spots. So, I’m trying to identify other writers and artists to select secrets for a week. That’ll be a fun experiment.
The Sun: That will happen soon?
F.W.: I hope so. I like to continue to try different things and experiment with the project because I think it keeps it vital.