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 and book series created by the U.S. based online storytelling magazine Smith Magazine.


In November 2006, Smith's editors Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser asked Smith readers to tell their life story in just six words, taking inspiration from novelist Ernest Hemingway (who, according to literary legend, was once challenged to write a short story in only six words, resulting in “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”).[1][2] Smith readers submitted their memoirs 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 memoirs, including contributions from celebrities such as Richard Ford, Deepak Chopra, and Moby. It was a New York Times bestseller, featured in many stories in The New Yorker, and was highlighted on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation.[4][5][6]

Love & Heartbreak cover

In early 2009, Smith released a follow-up, Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak, containing hundreds of personal stories about romance.[7] Another follow-up was released in late 2009; I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure dealt with the experiences of teenage life and as such was written by and for teens.[8] The most recent in the series, It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, was released in early 2010 and was marketed as the general sequel to Not Quite What I Was Planning.[9]


Community impact[edit]

The Six-Word Memoir format has been used as a writing exercise by teachers, with examples ranging from second-grade classrooms to graduate schools; furthermore, HarperCollins created a guide to encourage the format as an instructional tool.[11][12][13] Six-Word Memoirs have seen use in hospital wards, appeared in a eulogy, and suggested as a form of prayer by a preacher in North Carolina.[14] Six-Word Memoir videos from individuals ranging from teenager Micah Gray to bestselling author Daniel Handler have been posted to YouTube.[15][16] 6 Words Minneapolis, a public art project, employed the format to build community and empathy among citizens of Minneapolis.[17]


  1. ^ "Six Words Gets to The Point". Retrieved 2022-05-13.
  2. ^ Earle, Jamelah (21 September 2006). "For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn". Literary Kicks.
  3. ^ Smith, Larry; Fershleiser, Rachel (5 February 2008). Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061374050.
  4. ^ a b "PAPERBACK BEST SELLERS: ADVICE, HOW TO AND MISCELLANEOUS: Sunday, March 16th 2008". New York Times. 16 March 2008.
  5. ^ Widdicombe, Lizzie (17 February 2008). "Say It All in Six Words". The New Yorker.
  6. ^ "Six-Word Memoirs: Life Stories Distilled". National Public Radio. 7 February 2008.
  7. ^ Smith, Larry; Fershleiser, Rachel (6 January 2009). Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061714627.
  8. ^ Smith, Larry; Fershleiser, Rachel (1 September 2009). I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061726842.
  9. ^ Smith, Larry; Fershleiser, Rachel (5 January 2010). It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061719431.
  10. ^ "Books: Local bestsellers". The Denver Post. 5 February 2009.
  11. ^ Norton, John (9 July 2008). "The Short, Happy Lives of Teachers". Education Week.
  12. ^ Smith, Larry (3 August 2008). "Mrs. Nixon's Third-Graders' Six-Word Storybook". Smith Magazine.
  13. ^ "Note to Teachers". Archived from the original on 17 April 2009.
  14. ^ Smith, Larry (8 October 2008). ""Fat man eats pie then farts"—Six-Words in Hospitals". Smith Magazine.
  15. ^ Gray, Micah (3 April 2008). "My Life in 6 Words". YouTube.
  16. ^ Handler, Daniel (1 February 2009). "Daniel Handler reads Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak". YouTube.
  17. ^ Lloyd, Emily (23 April 2013). "6 Words Minneapolis: a participatory public art project". Slideshare.

External links[edit]