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Author Archive: "Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser"

The Joy of Six

"The exits were entrances in disguise."
— Shannon B., writer,

When we launched SMITH Magazine on January 6, 2006, (National Smith Day, which we didn't invent, but latched on to) the idea was to create a new kind of web magazine. The content would be largely user-generated, then curated by people who edit things for a living. It would be a bold new blend of the professional and the amateur, fueled by our populist, participatory mission: Everyone Has A Story.

We wanted a web magazine. Four years later, we've got something much better: an online community. And it was all a happy accident.

Back in the fall of 2006, one of our interns had an idea: she wanted to travel across the country with a friend and meet all her online buddies from an arty social network called We called it the "In Real Life" project &dmash; and visions of a reality TV show danced in our heads. The two young writers would drive across the U.S. finding adventures, picking up work as needed, crashing with virtual friends "IRL," and videoblogging the whole experience. They were up for anything. On day three, their car broke down, one blogged that the other one was being a bitch, someone said something ugly about the other's mom, and that was it. They bailed. Game over.

Suddenly we had to fill a big hole on the front page of We quickly popped in a new idea we had been kicking around: giving Hemingway's legendary six-word novel ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn") a personal twist. We combined the classic storytelling challenge with our passion for nonfiction confessionals and dubbed it "Six-Word Memoirs." Then we called up some guys we met at a tech conference about this new thing called Twitter and asked if they wanted to partner up to send one daily short life story to anyone who followed our @smithmag feed.

Four years and more than 200,000 Six-Word Memoirs later, we continue to be blown away by what people are capable of saying in just six words, the ways that others have adapted the form, and — not to get all Chicken Soup-y here — the unexpected little gems and gifts that launching this project has brought into our lives.

One Life. Six Words. What’s Yours?

Well, it's Friday. Thanks for having us, Powell's! All week, we've been looking back on the six-word memoir phenomenon — the contributors' stories, the assignments in schools, the six-word memoirists' past writings, and the evolution of confessional culture.

Before we cede the stage to Christopher Moore (Six-word memoir: "Heartbroken, until the bitch finally died"), I'd like to take a peek into the future. To the delight of many — and the chagrin of a few — there are two more six-word memoir books in the works right now. The next one will be entirely written by 13- to 19-year-olds. They went to town on, each submitting an average of eight memoirs for each one an adult submitted at I'm only 10 years older than some of these writers, but I feel a massive generation gap because I didn't grow up online. I scribbled my darkest teen angst in notebooks secreted under my mattress; these guys display every thought to the world. Unsurprisingly, many of them are huge Postsecret fans, and I got ...

We Are More Than Six Words

At our reading at the Burnside store last week, someone asked us, mostly in jest, "So, are you destroying creativity with your six-word memoirs?"

I, of course, deadpanned: "Yes."

Yet it's a question that comes up, at SMITH and elsewhere, lately: is this Twitter-y, text-message, "25 Random Things" culture turning us all into short-form zombies, spilling our guts in 140 characters (or less) and then falling asleep in front of reality TV? Of course not.

Our need to tell stories and express ourselves goes back to the time of the cavemen and extends to the dinner-table conversation you'll have tonight. We really want to tell stories, and we're drawn to storytellers, and technology has made it easier to tell our stories. And so what if they're short? Short is a start. The woman who wrote the six-word memoir that begins our first book, "After Harvard, had baby with crackhead" has never written about her intense life. Now she's working on a full-length memoir. That, for us, is the idea.

Continue »

I Wrote a Book about This

We recently added a T-shirt printing function to the Six-Word Memoir website. When I got to make one myself (and what snazzy little numbers they are!) I realized I wasn't dying to walk around Manhattan with "I finally threw away his toothbrush" emblazoned on my bosom. So I scrapped my own ode to empowerment, healing, and disposing of mildewed plastic, in favor of Vittorio Giannini's "I wrote a book about this."

I wrote a book about this

I find the whole thing hilariously meta, since the line is a six-word memoir and I made a book of... well, you get it. But in fact, I didn't really write the book — hundreds of you did. And many of our contributors, on all parts of the famous and obscure spectrum, have written books of their own. I can't possibly list them all, but in the grand tradition of "If you like Giorgio, you'll love Primo," here are some books you can check out for words 7, 8, 9, 10, etc...


Nine Years Stacked within My Soul

"Nine years stacked within my soul."

Those six words rocked my world more than any others I've heard in this wild, unwieldy, otherworldly six-word memoir journey we've been on for two-plus years now. But I'm jumping ahead.

Since we launched the six-word memoir challenge on SMITH in late 2006 and then published a book of our favorites, we've seen amazing things happen that, literally, were not quite what we were planning.

The six-word form has proved to be an unexpectedly elegant and accessible tool for self-expression and personal storytelling.  The thing is now bigger than Hemingway, who legendarily was challenged in a bar bet to write a story in just six words ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn."), and certainly bigger than SMITH. From a reverend in North Carolina who preached six-word prayers, to a midwestern book blogger who created a six-word memoir meme, which still races across hundreds of thousands of personal blogs, six-word memoirs have taken on a life beyond our wildest expectations. Who knew?

But nothing has been as


Back from Book Tour; Backstories from Book Contributors

We've just come crashing back into New York after visiting six cities in 12 days. I'm exhausted, and all I wanted to do when I got here was cook sweet potato-kale soup (healthy!) and make out with the sidewalks (somewhat less healthy). But we were lucky enough to visit only independent bookstores in Denver, San Francisco, Portland (what's up Pooooooooooowell's!), Boston, and Chicago, and it really makes a huge difference. Plus, I was reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle along the way, and thus feeling even more pedantic than usual about shopping local.

So, as the airplanes, security checks, hotel rooms, radio interviews, morning television hostesses, cardboard coffee cups, and skipped meals blend together, it is the bookstore readings that stand out in my mind. Each had a distinct character, and a multitude of distinct characters in attendance. The more contributors took over the event, approximating a poetry slam by way of group therapy session, the better the reading got. Who wants to hear Larry and me debate the validity of hyphenates when you could be getting the origins of "Monogamists ...

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