Tab Interview: Frank Warren
TABATHA LEGGETT talks to Frank Warren, the man behind PostSecret, about his inspiration behind the project and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
Years ago, I came across a PostSecret book in a bookshop. For those of you who don’t know what PostSecret is, it’s an ongoing community art project that was started by Frank Warren. The idea is that people anonymously send their secrets on postcards to Frank, and he displays them on his blog, in his books or in various museum exhibits.
I loved the idea. I bought the book, went home, wrote out my own secrets on a postcard and returned to the shop the next day, with my best friend, to leave our secrets in one of the other books on sale. Naturally, we didn’t read each others secrets. Secretly, I returned to the shop the next day and read my friend’s secret. Yes, I’m a bad person. It said, ‘I left this secret here with my best friend. One day, I hope she’ll realise how much she means to me. Maybe she already does.’
Anyway, we grew up, fell out and haven’t spoken in a couple of years. But my interest in PostSecret remained. The idea that a stranger would buy a book and receive our secrets was somehow appealing. And the idea of being the man that everyone trusts but no one knows was fascinating.
So, I wrote to Frank Warren and asked for an interview. Now, if you write to a man who receives between 100 and 200 letters per day, you don’t expect a reply. But, it turns out this man really does read all of his post, and he was game.
Tabatha Leggett: Why did you start PostSecret?
Frank Warren: I had a really boring job. I was in charge of a document delivery business, and I hated it. I needed to do something more meaningful. So, I started a blog. At first, I only ran it at weekends but, gradually, it escalated and the project became so big that I had to start doing it full time. I never expected it to take off like it did.
TL: What inspired you to start PostSecret?
FW: When a project turns your life upside down, like PostSecret has mine, there have to be lots of reasons behind starting it. And, I’m not sure I know all of them. Mainly, I wanted to escape my job. And, on a subconscious level, I think I needed to face my own secrets; secrets that I was struggling with myself.
TL: How long ago did you start the project?
FW: Five years ago.
TL: And how many letters do you receive daily?
FW: Between 100 and 200. Since starting PostSecret, I’ve received over half a million postcards. I’ve had to super size my mailbox!
TL: What have you learnt?
FW: I think I’ve learnt a lot about myself, but also about others. There are so many secrets that I can identify with. Secrets that I never even knew I had, until I read them on postcards that people sent to me, and I realised that I share them. But, mainly, I think I’ve learnt that if you carry a secret that you think is weird or disturbing somehow, you ought to share it with others. Because, more often than not, you’d be surprised at how many other people share that secret. That’s the great thing about PostSecret; it really connects people. It unites strangers.
TL: Have you ever received a secret that has really disturbed you?
FW: The thing is, secrets are kept secret for a reason. Of course I get disturbing secrets; it’s part of my job. But, secrets affect people differently. A secret that I might find disturbing, you might just find deeply sad, and vice versa. But, once I did receive a secret that the FBI contacted me about.
TL: Can I ask what that secret was?
FW: That’ll have to remain a secret.
TL: Is there a common theme in the secrets that you receive?
FW: Yes, definitely. I’ve discovered that most of us are searching for someone. We’re all looking for that one person with whom we can share all of our secrets. Sometimes, I feel like I’m a surrogate friend to everyone who is desperately searching for someone to trust. But I like it. It makes me feel connected to total strangers, which is kind of magical.
TL: Are there any secrets that have really touched you, or remained in your memory?
FW: Yes, many. Recently I received one postcard that said, ‘Snorting coke is my guilty pleasure. I think I might make it a habit.’ The postcard had some white powder on it, and I’m not sure if it’s cocaine or not. I posted it on my Twitter page, and it was viewed 32,000 times in its first day.
TL: What are your plans for the future?
FW: Maintaining PostSecret keeps me busy. I update the blog every Sunday; I’ve published 5 books and I update the Twitter page regularly. I also love travelling to schools and colleges and sharing my own secrets with people. For now, I’ll just keep going. I’ll see where it takes me.
TL: So, what exactly is your job?
FW: I’m the most trusted stranger.
Speaking to Frank Warren was strangely inspiring. I could tell that he is truly passionate about his job. He’s devoted his whole life to being someone who people can trust, and he loves it. He’s turned something as sinister as unshareable secrets into art.
After speaking to Frank, I sent my friend a text – the one I haven’t spoken to in a couple of years. We’re having coffee next week.