Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Authors on Stamps

Monday afternoon I sent the following e-mail query to the U.S. Post Office:

I would very much like to know which authors (or subjects) are covered in the U.S. Postal Service's Literary Arts series. I've conducted an internet search but I just can't find a place where the whole list is given. Also, I'd appreciate any help in learning about other authors, books or literary subjects that have merited U.S. stamp status. The information you send will be passed along to others via my literature blog. Thank you so much.

A response came back Tuesday from Ashlee B. (only about 24 hours after I sent my note! Nice going, Post Office!) Here's what she said:


Thank you for visiting our web site. I understand you would like to know which authors are covered in the United States Postal Service's Literary Arts Series.

The following authors are included in the Series: John Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Marianne Moore, William Saroyan, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thornton Wilder, Stephen Vincent Benet, Ayn Rand, Thomas Wolfe, Ogden Nash and Zora Neale Hurston.

I apologize, I do not have specific information about why those individuals were chosen.

If I can be of assistance in the future, please don't hesitate to contact me. Thank you for using the United States Postal Service.


So, what do you think of the Post Office's list? To me, Eliot is an okay pick; so is Melville, Thurber and Wilder. I might even stretch for Hurston. But the others in the list, as beloved by academics as they are, have never been in my top rank of American writers.

So who should make the Post Office Literary Artists series? Well, before you complain about significant omissions, please note that many other American authors were awarded "stamp status" previous to the Literary Artists series.

For instance, back in 1938, the U.S. Post Office Department announced that it was considering a series of stamps recognizing ten famous Americans. The original plan was to solicit suggestions from the public and pick the top ten recommendations. However, so many names were nominated that postal officials decided to increase the number of stamps to 35 people in seven categories: authors, poets, artists, educators, inventors, composers, and scientists, with five denominations in each series: 1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢, and 10¢.

According to their plan, in each category, the subjects honored with a stamp would be assigned a denomination based on their order of birth, with the person with the oldest birth date to be shown on the 1¢ stamp and the youngest on the 10¢ stamp. At the time, the 1¢ rate was valid for letters dropped off at a post office addressed to someone with a box at that particular post office whereas the 2¢ rate was for local (within a city) delivery of a letter as well as postcards to any address in the United States. The 3¢ stamp was enough for letters mailed to addresses outside of the city. And the others? They were used primarily in combination with other stamps for "overweight" letters, air mail, etc.

Anyhow, now that you know more about stamp history than you wanted to know, here's the authors and poets who made that 1940 stamp list:

1¢ Washington Irving...2¢ James Fenimore Cooper...3¢ Ralph Waldo Emerson...5¢ Louisa May Alcott...10¢ Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).

And the Poets:...1¢ Henry Longfellow...2¢ John Greenleaf Whittier...3¢ James Russell Lowell...5¢ Walt Whitman...10¢ James Whitcomb Riley

But, like I mentioned earlier, that's far from being all that have been selected down through the years.

Among other American authors granted their own stamp are Jack London, Edgar Allan Poe, Dr. Seuss, Pearl Buck, Margaret Mitchell, Langston Hughes, William Allen White, Robert Frost, Willa Cather, James Weldon Johnson, Edgar Lee Masters, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Horatio Alger Jr., Emily Dickinson, James Baldwin, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robinson Jeffers, Edna Ferber, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Eugene O'Neill, Bret Harte, Kate Douglas Wiggin, and Robert Penn Warren. Whew!

So what other American authors do you think should grace the front of a U.S. Postal Stamp?

My list of recommendations would certainly include Erle Stanley Gardner, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lew Wallace, Harold Bell Wright, L. Frank Baum, Zane Grey, Joyce Kilmer, Tom Wolfe (no, forget that; he's still alive), O.Henry and Ring Lardner. All of these deserve consideration more than a few who are already on the lists.

In fact, let today be the beginning of my campaign to get "stamp status" for these neglected literary giants. Whatdya' say, Ashlee; can you pass on to the powers that be there at the U.S. Post Office, my keen desire to see Gardner, Grey, Kilmer and the rest receive their much deserved "stamp" of approval? Thanks a bunch.