6-Word Memoirs

In a New York Times opinion column this  fall, Larry Smith, founder and editor of Smith Magazine,  suggested that his six-word memoir format is a good one for recording our pandemic times. I agree.

Six-word memoirs are exactly what they sound like, an expression of a memory or a moment in time, limited to six words. They have been collected in Smith’s books,  beginning with Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous & Obscure in 2008, on his website, and in a variety of spin-offs by other authors, like six-word horror stories. According to Smith, the constraints of six-word memoirs work best in moments of high emotions—the best and worst times of our lives. What better for 2020? In the Times column, Smith quoted some 2020 memoirs. Here are some samples:

Messy hair, messy room, messy thoughts.
— Lily Herman

I regret saying, “I hate school.”
— Riana Heffron

Cleaned Lysol container with Lysol wipe.
— Alex Wasser

I identify with that last one! One of the best things about 6-word memoirs is that they can work for any level from first grade on up. Every student has a 2020 story to tell, and allowing only six words both takes off the pressure and enhances the need for focus. Here are some student examples from last spring. I wonder what they’d say now? This is a moment in history that should be recorded by many voices. I hope you will find time for you own 6-word story, and your students’ stories, to be part of that telling. I would absolutely love to hear some of them.

If you’d like to hear Larry Smith describe his six-word project, enjoy.

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