The Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, sets out to prepare its students to “transform the world creatively.” It is no wonder, then, that Six-Word Memoirs has found a place at this prestigious arts school.
Assistant Professor John Ferry first discovered Six-Word Memoirs while listening to NPR. The six-word form immediately struck him as useful in the classroom. “I thought to myself: Hey, that might be a really cool assignment,” says Ferry. He picked up our fourth book in the series, It All Changed in an Instant, to immerse himself in the form.
This year, Ferry used Six Words with a sophomore illustration class titled “Image and Form.” In that class, he explains, “we try to get them to play, think, and go about things in an unconventional way.”
The assignment began with a handout that included information about SMITH Magazine and sixwordmemoirs.com, as well as Ernest Hemingway and his legendary six-word novel. Ferry also read aloud examples from It All Changed in an Instant. The learning goal was to familiarize each of his students majoring in Illustration “with writing and illustrating their text,” emphasizing the importance of delivering clear messages at a quick glance.
The students began by crafting a number of six-word sentences. They then chose one to focus on and created illustrations to accompany their Six-Word Memoir.
The project, which lasted just more than a week, was a welcome challenge for art students. “Some students are double majors, but most aren’t necessarily writers,” says Ferry. “Because it has to be condensed into six words, it’s not as daunting.” The six-word form was as stimulating as it was accessible: “The prompt is defined, yet really open at the exact same time,” explains Mr. Ferry.
The results were stunning (“Even better than I had planned”). The memoirs were bold (“Don’t be a nihilist. Just draw.”), funny (“Eat cake now. Regret it never.”), reflective (“I don’t belong in this decade.”) and sometimes deeply revealing (“I watched myself become a ghost.”).
“This assignment has helped me learn more about my students,” he says. “This helps me as a professor; the more I know about them personally, the better I can help them figure out what they want to do with their work.”
Though this was the first time Ferry has used Six-Word Memoirs in the classroom, it has quickly proven its worth: “I will absolutely always give this assignment. I wish I’d been doing it longer,” says Mr. Ferry. —Emma Arace
Teachers! Since we first launched the Six-Word Memoir project, educators across the spectrum have found Six Words to be a terrific classroom assignment and catalyst for self-expression. At our Six in Schools section we celebrate students’ work from classrooms around the world.