Anatomy of a Stamp: Gwendolyn Brooks

Have you ever wondered about the process involved in choosing just the right picture for a stamp? The story about the selection of the Gwendolyn Brooks picture featured on the Twentieth-Century Poets sheet reveals some of the mystery and magic involved in making stamps.

Twentieth-Century Poets Notecard Set (click image to order)

Art Director Derry Noyes reviewed several photographs before selecting a picture of a youthful Ms. Brooks. A version of Noyes’s original picture selection can be seen on the Poetry Foundation’s Gwendolyn Brooks biography page.

Consultation with the poet’s daughter Nora Brooks Blakely shifted the picture selection from that of a youthful portrait to a more mature depiction of the poet. Ms. Blakely sent pictures from her personal collection for the U.S. Postal Service to consider.

During the selection process, Ms. Blakely also recommended that USPS be in touch with Jon Randolph, a Chicago photographer, who had photographed Ms. Brooks many times. Randolph also pulled together a selection from his archive and forwarded the pictures for review. Ultimately, Noyes selected a charming photograph of Ms. Brooks, hands on her hips, posing before bookshelves in her home library.

Love it!

Noyes saw one obstacle to using the photograph, however: The wall of books, she felt, distracted the eye from focusing on Ms. Brooks’s wonderful animated expression. And none of the other stamp portraits featured complex backgrounds. Mr. Randolph gave USPS permission to alter his photograph by removing the background wall of books.

The picture of Ms. Brooks then fit seamlessly alongside those of the other nine poets presented on the sheet.

The Twentieth-Century Poets stamps are available for sale as a pane of 20 stamps or block of ten stamps. Ten stamps—one of each poet—are also included with a set of ten notecards and envelopes.