Six-Word Memoirs

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Six-Word Memoirs
Type of site
Online Magazine
EditorsLarry Smith, Rachel Fershleiser
Alexa rankPositive decrease 658,617 (April 2014)[1]

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.[2] Taking a cue from novelist Ernest Hemingway, who, according to literary legend, was once challenged to write a short story in only six words,[3] 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.

In May 2008, Smith announced three new Six-Word Memoir book projects: Six Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak (2009), then a book of Six-Word Memoirs by and for teens (Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure), and a second general Six-Word Memoir sequel to the original.

Six-Word Memoir books[edit]

Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous & Obscure[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.[4]

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"[5] , and highlighted on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation.[6]

Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure[edit]

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 Heartbreak in early 2009.[7]

Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak contains hundreds of personal stories about the pinnacles and pitfalls of romance.

The editors of Smith asked dozens of writers "famous and obscure" to compose six-word memoirs; they wanted wordsmiths, old and new, to capture the essence of romance in half a dozen words.[8]

Press for this second book included a second appearance on Talk of the Nation.[9] The book also spent some time on Entertainment Weekly's Must List.[10]

I Can't Keep My Own Secrets—Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure[edit]

SMITH Teens logo

Released September 1, 2009,[11] 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. Soon after, it became a destination for teenagers to reveal their biggest secrets, or the most mundane moments in their daily lives. The book features famous and everyday teens from The United States and abroad.

Six-Word Memoirs in the media[edit]

The Leonard Lopate Show[edit]

Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser made their WNYC debut [12] on The Leonard Lopate Show on Friday, February 27, 2009. The show was listener interactive, asking Lopate fans to submit their memoirs to the show for a contest. The winners and runner-up's memoirs were read on-air.


Best Wordplay:
“Living in existential vacuum; it sucks.”
—Deb, Brooklyn

Best on Tech:
“Facebook has ruined my entire life.”
—Jeanie Engleke, Bradley Beach, NJ

Best on Politics:
“Nixon childhood, Reagan teenager, hope finally.”
—Tonia Mohammed-Madejczyk, Northport, New York

An unexpected personal story was shared by a listener during the Lopate segment:[13]

And in an intense few minutes of radio, Anne from Hell’s Kitchen shared her six-word memoir, “I found my mother’s suicide note.” She talked about how important it was for her to come to terms with her mother’s death, and the role of the note in that process. The note, she explained, was just six words: “No flowers, no funeral, no nothing.”

Love & Heartbreak Book Tour[edit]

Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser went on the Love & Heartbreak book tour in January and February 2009. Major stops included Books Inc. in San Francisco, Tattered Cover Books in Denver, and the Book Cellar in Chicago. The tour culminated at a joint-sponsored event in New York City at The Housing Works Bookstore. In addition to featured SMITH activities, there were performances and activities by PostSecret, Found Magazine, Mortified, Cassette from My Ex, and music by Michael Hearst of One Ring Zero.

Smith on Twitter[edit]

Continuing Larry Smith's effort to utilize cutting-edge internet technology, Smith posted daily Love & Heartbreak Six-Word Memoir Tweets in February 2009 leading up to Valentine's Day.[14]


  • 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,[15] ranging from second-grade classrooms[16] to graduate schools. HarperCollins created a teacher's guide to encourage the Six-Word Memoir form as a tool for teaching.[17] Six-Word Memoirs have been employed as tools in hospital wards,[18] appeared in a eulogy,[19] 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)[20] and bestselling author Daniel Handler[21] have been posted to YouTube. 6 Words Minneapolis,[22] a public art project, employed the form to build community and empathy among citizens living in the same large city.


  1. ^ " Site Info". Alexa Internet. Retrieved 2014-04-01.
  2. ^ Grindeland, Sherry. "Hey, Smiths: Your day has come," Seattle Times (January 6, 2005)
  3. ^ "Literary Kicks". Literary Kicks.
  4. ^ "Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure (Paperback)". Amazon.
  5. ^ "Say It All in Six Words". The New Yorker.
  6. ^ "Talk of the Nation and Smith Magazine". Amazon.
  7. ^ "Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak". Harper Collins. ISBN 9780061714627.
  8. ^ "Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure". Barnes & Noble.
  9. ^ "Six-Word Memoirs: The Valentine's Day Edition". National Public Radio. July 17, 2011 [2009].
  10. ^ Jean Bentley (February 25, 2009). "Share your Musts with us, please". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on February 28, 2009.
  11. ^ "I Can't Keep My Own Secrets". Harper Teen.
  12. ^ Six Word Memoirs. The Leonard Lopate Show.
  13. ^ a b Larry Smith (February 27, 2009). "Winners of the Leonard Lopate Six-Word Memoir Contest". SMITH Blog.
  14. ^ "SMITHMag". Twitter. SMITHMag Twitter Account.
  15. ^ "The Short, Happy Lives of Teachers". Education Week. July 9, 2008.
  16. ^ Larry Smith (August 3, 2008). "Mrs. Nixon's Third-Graders' Six-Word Storybook".
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2009-03-30.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ Larry Smith (October 8, 2008). ""Fat man eats pie then farts"—Six-Words in Hospitals".
  19. ^ Archived from the original on August 13, 2011. Retrieved March 30, 2009. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ Micah Gray (April 3, 2008). My Life in 6 Words.
  21. ^ SixWords (February 1, 2009). Daniel Handler reads Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak.
  22. ^ Emily Lloyd (April 23, 2013). 6 Words Minneapolis: a participatory public art project.