Eight years ago, just before Thanksgiving 2006, my then-SMITH Mag crew, Tim Barkow, Rachel Fershleiser and I challenged this community to describe their life in exactly six words. Giving Ernest Hemingway’s legendary six-word novel (‘For sale: Baby shoes, never used”] a personal twist, we called this new section of SMITH “Six-Word Memoirs.” We teamed up with a newish site that had an equal fondness for the short form called Twitter. And we had no idea what was coming next.
I remember telling my family about it. Everyone at the table, from ages 6 to 80, immediately took to the form; Sixes were flying across the table (my 11-year old nephew: “I have one for Pop-Pop: ‘Memory loss. What was I saying?'”). And the Sixes have been flying ever since.
Some eight years later, more then a million Six-Worders have been shared on Six-Word Memoirs from SMITH Magazine and the concept just keeps growing in ways I could never have imagined. This past year we released a Six-Word App, announced the Six-Word Advice book, started a new live events series at the 92Y, published a workbook and launched a new site for teachers/classrooms (more on that below), partnered with Urbanful for a Six in the City project (beginning with DC), and brought Six Words to a TEDx event inside a men’s prison. I’ve continued to lead storytelling workshops inside major companies such as Levi’s, Intuit, Dell and elsewhere, and brought the joy of six to festivals and conferences everywhere (including the National Storytelling Festival where this Six-Word Memoir tree so beautifully bloomed).
We’ve published seven books of Six-Worders, made a board game and T-shirts; all of these commercial endeavors are aligned with SMITH’s mission to encourage self-expression and catalyze conversation. Trust me, when I walk around with a T-shirt that says, “So much crying, the baby too” or “Our prison visitations were surprisingly romantic” I end up have great conversations with strangers about my life and theirs.
Books and T-shirts may fuel the bottom line, but the noncommercial aspects of Six Words fuel the soul. We’ve engaged in collaborations with organizations such as the youth nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms, the veterans’ group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and classrooms around the world.
At our Six in Schools section we celebrate students’ work in classrooms worldwide. This past year, we released the Six Words for Schools workbook, the first in our suite of new school-based teaching tools, and launched our Six Schools website, a place solely for teachers to share their classrooms’ work with other educators globally.
As I tap out these words a few days before Thanksgiving, I give thanks for my small, strong staff: Pat the tech guru; Jonathan the community czar; and the tireless Shauna, who is always one step ahead of me (and sometimes catches the mistakes I made one step behind). SMITH is just one of many things they each do, yet like me they wake up jazzed about the power of storytelling and the community that makes such a beautiful noise.
Above all, it is the incredible community of storytellers that makes Six Words tick each and every day. You’re a Loon-y, L2L3ove-able bunch, with a touch of ADHDean and constant Contemplative-ness; and so you better Believe I tip my hat to you. I am grateful for your passion and thoughtfulness, and even your impatience because it means you just want the best experience on the site possible. The community makes SMITH Mag’s mission manifest in exactly the way I had hoped: a place where the storytelling playing field is level and self-expression has no limits.