Legend has it that someone challenged Ernest Hemingway to write a story using only six words. His response was: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Little did he know that his story would lead to a global phenomenon known as “six-word memoirs.” In 2006, Larry Smith from Smith Magazine invited readers to describe their lives in six words; the overwhelming response he received became a best-selling book series and popular website. Last week, Smith wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times called “The Pandemic in Six-Word Memoirs.” Here are some favorites from his article:
Avoiding death, but certainly not living.
— Sydney R.
Social distancing myself from the fridge.
— Maria L.
I regret saying, “I hate school.”
— Riana H.
Hallway hike, bathtub swim, Pandora concert.
— Susan E.
Required school supplies: screens, screens, screens.
— Darshana C.
The world has never felt smaller.
— Maggie S.
Six-word memoirs are an effective form for getting to the essence of overwhelming topics like a global pandemic, systemic racism, or a heated presidential election. There’s something about only having six words that helps you get to the heart of the matter.
You can use six-word memoirs as an icebreaker to spark conversation, a public art project to build community, or as a way to crystalize goals in a board meeting. They’re popular because they’re fun, creative, and accessible — even the most poetry-phobic among us can manage six words on a topic.
Give it a try: Using just six words, share your experience of the current times. Here’s mine: Bags are packed. Ready to go!
“The Pandemic in Six-Word Memoirs” by Larry Smith. The New York Times, September 11, 2020.
Photo: First Day of School: Six Word Stories with a Twist. Moving Writers.