Six-Word Memoirs

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Six-Word Memoirs
Type of site
Online Magazine
EditorsLarry Smith, Rachel Fershleiser

Six-Word Memoirs is a project founded by the U.S.-based online storytelling magazine Smith Magazine. Like that publication, Six-Word Memoirs seek to provide a platform for storytelling in all its forms.


Smith was founded January 6, 2006, by Larry Smith and Tim Barko.[1] Taking a cue from novelist Ernest Hemingway, who, according to literary legend, was once challenged to write a short story in only six words,[2] Smith Magazine set out to do the same. The six-word story attributed to the famous author read: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In November 2006, Smith's editors Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser gave the six-word story a personal twist, asking Smith readers to tell their life story in just six words. Smith readers submitted their six-words via, and Smith's Twitter account. In early 2007, Smith signed with Harper Perennial to create the Six-Word Memoir book series.

Six-Word Memoir books[edit]

The first in Smith's Six-Word Memoir book series, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous & Obscure was released in early 2008.[3]

It collected almost 1,000 Six-Word Memoirs, including additions from many celebrities like Richard Ford, Deepak Chopra, and Moby.

It was a New York Times bestseller, featured in many stories in The New Yorker[4] , and highlighted on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation.[5]

Love & Heartbreak cover

As a romantic follow-up to Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous & Obscure, Smith released Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak in early 2009.[6] It contains hundreds of personal stories about romance. The editors of Smith asked dozens of writers "famous and obscure" to compose six-word memoirs.[7]

SMITH Teens logo

Released September 1, 2009,[8] I Can't Keep My Own Secrets—Six-Word Memoirs by Teens: Famous & Obscure, was the first Six-Word Memoir book devoted entirely to teenagers. Smith launched Smith Teens in June 2008. The book features famous and everyday teens from The United States and abroad.


  • Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure was listed on Amazon's Best Books of 2008 list at number 69.
  • In April 2009, The Denver Post listed Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: By Writers Famous and Obscure as the 5th bestselling non-fiction paperback [1] in the Denver area according to sales at the Tattered Cover Book Store, Barnes & Noble in Greenwood Village, the Boulder Book Store [2], and Border's Books in Lone Tree.
  • Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure was listed as a New York Times bestseller [3] in 2008. It was grouped in the paperback section of the "advice, how to and miscellaneous section."

Community impact[edit]

The Six-Word Memoir format has been used as a writing exercise for teachers,[9] ranging from second-grade classrooms[10] to graduate schools. HarperCollins created a teacher's guide to encourage the Six-Word Memoir form as a tool for teaching.[11] Six-Word Memoirs have been employed as tools in hospital wards,[12] appeared in a eulogy,[13] and suggested as a form of prayer by a preacher in North Carolina. Six-Word Memoir videos from individuals ranging from teenager Micahsamaniac (a YouTube user)[14] and bestselling author Daniel Handler[15] have been posted to YouTube. 6 Words Minneapolis,[16] a public art project, employed the form to build community and empathy among citizens living in the same large city.


  1. ^ Grindeland, Sherry. "Hey, Smiths: Your day has come," Seattle Times (January 6, 2005)
  2. ^ "Literary Kicks". Literary Kicks.
  3. ^ Smith, Larry; Fershleiser, Rachel (13 October 2009). "Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure (Paperback)". ISBN 978-0061374050.
  4. ^ "Say It All in Six Words". The New Yorker.
  5. ^ "Talk of the Nation and Smith Magazine". Amazon.
  6. ^ Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak. Harper Collins. 2009-10-06. ISBN 9780061714627.
  7. ^ "Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure". Barnes & Noble.
  8. ^ "I Can't Keep My Own Secrets". Harper Teen.
  9. ^ "The Short, Happy Lives of Teachers". Education Week. July 9, 2008.
  10. ^ Larry Smith (August 3, 2008). "Mrs. Nixon's Third-Graders' Six-Word Storybook".
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2009-03-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Larry Smith (October 8, 2008). ""Fat man eats pie then farts"—Six-Words in Hospitals".
  13. ^ Archived from the original on August 13, 2011. Retrieved March 30, 2009. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ Micah Gray (April 3, 2008). My Life in 6 Words.
  15. ^ SixWords (February 1, 2009). Daniel Handler reads Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak.
  16. ^ Emily Lloyd (April 23, 2013). 6 Words Minneapolis: a participatory public art project.

External links[edit]