Celebrate American Letters With New O. Henry Stamp

Today we are very pleased to announce the release of the 28th stamp in the Literary Arts series. The stamp commemorates the 150th anniversary of the birth of O. Henry (1862–1910), one of America’s most popular writers of short fiction. His stories (nearly 300 of them!), such as “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Ransom of Red Chief,” are known for their humor, irony, and skillful unfolding of plot, often with a surprise twist at the end.

Drawing on O. Henry’s close association with New York City, art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamp using work by illustrator Cap Pannell. Pannell based his portrait of O. Henry on a photograph of the author as a young man, probably from the late 1880s. In the stamp’s background he depicted the elevated rail in New York.

This #6¾ envelope includes an affixed O. Henry (Forever®) stamp and an official First Day of Issue color postmark. Click image for order information.

The O. Henry stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp in self-adhesive sheets of 20 stamps each. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

At the time of issuance, the O. Henry stamp is being sold at a price of 45 cents each, or $9.00 per sheet of 20 stamps. The stamp is also available as a block of four ($1.60) or ten ($4.50) stamps.

O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” & the Sacrifices We Make for Love

The short stories of O. Henry (1862–1910) are beloved for their irony and skillful unfolding of plot; often, they end with a surprise twist. This prolific author wrote nearly 300 tales, most in the final eight years of his life. One of his most popular, “The Gift of the Magi,” was published on this day in 1906. It tells of a struggling young married couple, Jim and Della, on Christmas Eve. Della has one treasure, her luxuriously long hair, which she has cut off and sold to buy Jim a chain for his prize possession, an heirloom watch—which he, in turn, has sold to buy her a fine set of combs. O. Henry’s sense of irony is on full display in this poignant tale, suggesting that human goals are likely to be frustrated no matter how good our intentions. (Was he right?)

By the time of his death, O. Henry was internationally admired and the most widely read storyteller in America. Later this year, the U.S. Postal Service will commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth with the 28th stamp in the Literary Arts series.

National Book Month: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

In the continuing celebration of National Book Month, we look at Ayn Rand, a writer and philosopher whose novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are still among the most read books of our time.

Atlas Shrugged was Rand’s last novel. Part mystery and part thriller, the plot seeks to answer the question posed at the beginning of the book: “Who is John Galt?” The answer is the story of a man who said he would “stop the motor of the world” and succeeded by luring away society’s most talented and capable minds. Passionate and profound, the story explores the main tenets of Objectivism, Rand’s philosophy of rational individualism.

While her philosophy is still influential today, what is little known about Rand is that she was a passionate stamp collector. In an article published in 1971—“Why I Like Stamp Collecting”—the author explained her fascination: “An inextricable part of even a casual glance at stamps is the awareness of what a magnificent achievement they represent: for a few pennies, you can send a letter to any place on earth, to the farthest, most desolate corner where human beings might live…Those bright little pieces of paper will carry your words across oceans, over mountains, over deserts, and still more difficult: over savage frontiers…”

Rand the stamp collector would have appreciated the honor granted her by the U.S. Postal Service in 1999: her own stamp. The design of the stamp, by artist Nick Gaetano, is an image of Rand’s face, set against the skyscrapers she celebrated in her novels as the embodiment of mankind’s heroic potential.

National Book Month: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

A novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston is remembered for her artistry and celebration of black culture. Her best-known work, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), was one of the few required reading books in my adolescence that really stuck with me.

Hurston paints a rich picture of American life in the 1930s—a master of weaving tragedy into the daily lives of her characters without sentimentalizing. At once a novel about black America, the lives of women, and social and economic hardship, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a beautifully rendered account of one woman’s struggle to live the life she imagined in the South. Strongly influenced by her involvement with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, Hurston’s voice is powerful and moving without being overtly political. Today, Hurston is considered one of American’s most original and accomplished writers.

Issued in 2003, the Zora Neale Hurston stamp was the 19th issuance in the Literary Arts series. Renowned movie poster artist Drew Struzan illustrated this lively portrait of Hurston based on a 1934 black-and-white photograph taken in Chicago by Carl Van Vechten. The background of the painting recalls the setting of Their Eyes Were Watching God.

National Book Month: Julia de Burgos’s Song of the Simple Truth

Julia de Burgos was such a beautiful, revolutionary, romantic poet. Take this excerpt from her most famous poem, “Río Grande le Loíza,” a love song to the river that ran near her childhood home in Puerto Rico:

mi niñez fue toda un poema en el río,
y un río en el poema de mis primeros sueños.

my childhood was all a poem in the river,
and a river in the poem of my first dreams.

Isn’t that gorgeous?

Many of her poems are love poems–to her homeland, to the men in her life, to herself. Others confront the traditional image of women as submissive, fragile, and naïve: “yo soy la vida, la fuerza, la mujer”–”I am life, strength, woman.” She also wrote about social and political concerns.

Not many people outside of Puerto Rico know about Julia’s poetry. In her lifetime she published just three collections, all of them in the 1930s: Poemas exactos a mí misma (Exact Poems to Myself), Poema en veinte surcos (Poem in Twenty Furrows), and Canción de la verdad sencilla (Song of the Simple Truth). A fourth volume, El mar y tú (The Sea and You), was published in 1954, a year after her tragic death at the age of 39.

As part of National Book Month this year, I decided to dip in and out of her collected works, Song of the Simple Truth (different from the collection mentioned above). What I’ve found is rousing, sensual, lyrical, and strange. “En los techos de mi alma se turban las palomas”–”The doves are disturbed on the roofs of my soul,” she writes in “Canción para dormirte” (“Song to Lull You to Sleep”):

Mi corazón ha oído
rumor de ola extraviada,
y se ha vuelto hacia el cosmos
en búsqueda silente . . .

My heart has heard
a rumor of a missing wave,
and has turned to the cosmos
in silent search . . .

Wow. This is poetry that will speak to every part of you.

The Julia de Burgos stamp was issued on September 14, 2010, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is the 26th stamp in the Literary Arts series. (Collectors can still purchase the stamp, the first day ceremony program, and the FDC Keepsake.)