Frank Warren is the keeper of hundreds of thousands of secrets.
As the originator of PostSecret – an ongoing community arts project that invites strangers to mail their untold truths to him anonymously – he’s read literally a ton of them. Each one is on a 4-by-6-inch postcard mailed to his home address, 13345 Copper Ridge Road, Germantown, MD 20874.
The venture started eight years ago, on the streets of Washington, D.C. To counteract his job as the owner of a document delivery service, one weekend Warren handed out postcards to random people, asking them to write down their deepest secrets and mail them to him anonymously.
Today Warren is the best-selling author of five anthologies’ worth of those secrets. His postcards have appeared in a video by The All-American Rejects – one of MTV’s most-requested music videos. A play based on a handful of the postcards is set to debut soon; and he sold the delivery business to work full-time giving talks on the speech-circuit worldwide.
On Feb. 26, Warren will make a stop at UNC Charlotte to share his own secrets, the risqué secrets banned by his publisher and why his idea of anonymous secret sharing caught on like wildfire.
“There’s something about secrets that plugs into the deepest parts of us and reminds us of how universal we are,” said Warren. “Even through all the separations of states and beliefs and economic systems, a secret can unite us. It can bridge us.”
He’s received all sorts of secrets through the years.
“I am a survivor of suicide, and so very grateful to be alive,” wrote one person across a 4-by-6 photo of a tree with colorful autumn leaves.
“I wish I was straight so I could get married in the gown my mother and grandmother both wore,” wrote another. The vivid art shows two women in wedding gowns standing next to a rainbow-colored silhouette.
People send in their post cards because the purging of a secret can be liberating, Warren said.
“Secrets don’t have to be walls that we keep inside us. If we find the courage to share them, they can become bridges that bring us together, not just with other people, but with the deepest parts of who we are.”
They can also shed light on the humanity around us.
One postcard came from a young man who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness: “I’ve always wished I could see the world. … But I’ll never get the chance,” he wrote.
Warren watched as more than 700 postcards arrived in response to the young man’s thoughts, each bearing a snapshot of a local landmark near the sender, and directed to the young man.
“To me, that’s one of the hopeful parts of the project,” Warren said. “It brings people together creatively and anonymously in a way that offers support for someone who might be struggling to reconcile with a secret in their life.”
They’re not all that heavy. Some secrets are as light as the cardstock they’re printed on.
“I’m afraid that the people at the tanning salon watch me tan naked,” wrote one.
When he handed out those 3,000 blank postcards to random people on the street, Warren had no idea his project would take off the way it did, but he’s glad it did.
“My original goal was to receive back 365 secrets,” he said. “I’ve been privileged to have this secret peek at our common, hidden humanity in a way that makes me appreciate who we are, and maybe accepting of who we are in ways that I never would have been before.”