What would love say to you in Six Words? Larry poses that challenge as a guest on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Letters From Love Newsletter

November 2010

Just before Thanksgiving four years ago, SMITH’s tiny, part-time team, consisting of co-founder, Tim Barkow, and senior editor, Rachel Fershleiser (pictured here at our book launch party with Summer Grimes, whose six-worder, "Not quite what I was planning," became the book's title, not to mention soul of a story told in six-word sentences in The New Yorker), and I quietly tossed out a challenge to the SMITH Magazine community: "How would you describe your life in exactly six words?" Our challenge was a personal twist on the legendary Hemingway six-word novel ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn.") which we dubbed the Six-Word Memoir (appropriate for a site about memoir, after all). You can see our rather scrappy inaugural Six-Word Memoir project design (above) from 2006. When I went home for the holiday, I remember telling my family about the latest spaghetti we'd thrown at the proverbial SMITH Mag wall, and then watching as something fascinating unfolded: everyone started sharing Six-Word Memoirs at the table. The youngest member of my family and the oldest alike came up with sixes. The most writerly and least likely to crack a book both got the bug. Among three generations, and various attitudes and aptitudes, anyone could write a Six-Word Memoir—and everyone loved hearing what others came up with. Hmmmm, I thought, this might work.

A fleeting thought about the number of one-word memoir titles atop the bestseller list became a simple SMITH reader challenge: What's the one-word title of your memoir? As usual, the SMITH community rocked the creative clock, sharing more than 300 one-word memoir titles here on the blog, on our Facebook page, and via Twitter. Your lives are Self-helped, Juxtaposed, Bullshit-ed, Medicated, Inebriated, Dogged, Disrupted, and Reassembled. You revealed that you see yourself, in a word, as Catatonic, F.A.B., Adapted, Assimilated, McLovin’, and Unfinished. Because we offered you the option to expand on your one-word title with a one-sentence description as well, we found out that you are Stirred because of your “life unlived by James Bond,” that your memoir, Mantourage, is about “an almost true love story,” and WithDrawn tells the true story of “an artist, where there's so much more to me than meets the eye.” Perhaps with an ear toward our judge, Erin McKean, founder of the wonderful Wordnik (“a place for all the words, and everything known about them”), many of you made up words to get to the essence of who you are in just one. The writer of Peripheraltastique explains that, “at this point in my life I’ve been living on the outskirts of other people’s success and passions—but in a fantastic way where I’ve been taken wonderful places both physically and mentally. Thus—peripheral + fantastic!” We were so blown away by the submissions that in addition to the winner, we’ve decided to name five runners-up, each of who will receive a surprise book from the good offices of Wordnik. And the winner is…. Klong.

So much of storytelling these days—and certainly at SMITH—happens behind a computer. That's one reason one we love to take the Six-Word Memoir project on the road for readings and events, at bookstores and music festivals. Live, in person, the stories, and storytellers, take on a whole new life. So when PBS' Need To Know program heard about our newest six-word project, "Six Words on Coming Home From War," a collaboration Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), asked for our help getting in touch with some of the veterans, we knew something special would happen.